As many countries gingerly start lifting their lockdown measures, experts worry that a further surge of the coronavirus in under-developed regions with shaky health systems could undermine efforts to halt the pandemic, and they say more realistic options are needed.
Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, India and Pakistan are among countries easing tight restrictions, not only before their outbreaks have peaked but also before any detailed surveillance and testing system is in place to keep the virus under control. That could ultimately have devastating consequences, health experts warn.
“Politicians may be desperate to get their economies going again, but that could be at the expense of having huge numbers of people die,” said Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Exeter in Britain.
He said re-imposing recently lifted lockdown measures was equally dangerous.
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“Doing that is extremely worrying because then you will build up a highly resentful and angry population, and it’s unknown how they will react,” Pankhania said.
And as nearly every developed country struggles with its own outbreak, there may be fewer resources to help those with long overstretched capacities.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Monday the pandemic was “worsening” globally, noting that countries on Sunday reported the biggest one-day total: more than 136,000 cases. Among those, nearly 75 per cent of the cases were from 10 countries in the Americas and South Asia.
Wealthy countries in Europe and North America hit first by the pandemic are training armies of contact tracers to hunt down cases, designing tracking apps and planning virus-free air travel corridors.
But in many poor regions, where crowded slums and streets mean even basic measures, such as hand-washing and social distancing, are difficult, the coronavirus is exploding now that restrictions are being removed. Last week, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, India and Pakistan all saw one-day records of new infections or deaths as they reopened public spaces and businesses.
Clare Wenham of the London School of Economics described the situation in Brazil as “terrifying,” noting the government’s decision to stop publishing a running total of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
“We’ve seen problems with countries reporting data all over the world, but to not even report data at all is clearly a political decision,” she said. That could complicate efforts to understand how the virus is spreading in the region and how it’s affecting the Brazilian population, Wenham said.
Rio de Janeiro allowed surfers and swimmers back in the water, and small numbers of beach-goers were defying a still-active ban on gathering on the sand.
Relaxing restrictions “is dangerous because we’re still at the peak, right? So, it’s a little dangerous,” said Alessandra Barros, a 46-year-old cashier on the sidewalk next to Ipanema beach. “Today, it’s calm, but this weekend will be crowded.”
Bolivia has authorized reopening most of the country. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also recently unwound restrictions. Ecuador’s airports have resumed flights, and shoppers have returned to some of Colombia’s malls.
In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged the country to stay calm after officials last week reported rising numbers of deaths that rivaled those in Brazil or the U.S.
Across Latin America, countries that cracked down early and hard, such as El Salvador and Panama, have done relatively well, although some of that has come at the expense of human rights and civil liberties, Wenham said.
“Countries willing to take the short-term hit are the ones coming out better,” she said. But poor countries weren’t entirely without options, she said, noting early, pre-emptive actions by Sierra Leone and Liberia.
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“They learned from the Ebola outbreak and moved quickly when they decided their economy couldn’t cope with community transmission,” she said. So far, numbers have been relatively low in both West African countries.
Dr. Nathalie MacDermott, a clinical lecturer at King’s College London, warned that some countries might be lulled into a false sense of security, citing South Africa as an example.
“Their response looked quite promising initially, but it seems premature to release the lockdown without a better level of testing in place,” she said.
South Africa’s cases are “rising fast,” according to President Cyril Ramaphosa. More than half of its approximately 48,000 confirmed cases have been recorded in the last two weeks, prompting concerns that Africa’s most developed economy could see a steep rise in infections shortly after restrictions are relaxed.
MacDermott said the surge of COVID-19 in many developing countries suggests “we will potentially struggle more to get on top of it,” and that the virus might persist long after developed countries bring it under control.
“That could result in very stringent travel measures on those parts of the world where the virus is still circulating,” she said.
In Pakistan, the number of infections continued to rise as Prime Minister Imran Khan said the country’s poorest cannot survive a strict lockdown after easing restrictions last month.
After refusing to close mosques and procceding with the reopening of the country even as medical experts pleaded for stricter measures, Pakistan recorded more than 100 deaths for the first time on Tuesday, along with 4,646 new cases. Authorities shut down thousands of shops and markets nationwide last week in raids of those violating social distancing regulations.
More than 5,000 deaths in Quebec
According to Johns Hopkins University, as of Tuesday morning, there were more than 7.1 million recorded coronavirus cases worldwide, with more than 407,000 reported deaths.
The U.S. has seen the most cases, according to the Baltimore-based university, at more than 1.9 million cases reported with more than 111,000 deaths.
1/2 To date, labs across ?? have tested 1,930,141 people for <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a>, w\ an average ~5% positive overall. Based on the last seven days, an average of ~33,000 people have been tested daily (w\ ~3% +ve) as <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/publichealth?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#publichealth</a> continues to <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/TestandTrace?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#TestandTrace</a>.
As of 12:55 p.m. ET on Tuesday there were 96,614 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases in Canada, with 55,537 considered recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial data, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 7,941.
Quebec and Ontario account for the vast majority of cases in Canada, with Quebec on Tuesday passing the grim milestone of 5,000 deaths in that province alone.
Long-term care homes and other settings where people live in groups have been particularly hard-hit. The Canadian military has deployed members to care homes in both Ontario and Quebec to help meet the needs of vulnerable residents amid critical staffing shortages.
What’s happening with COVID-19 in Canada
Provinces are taking steps forward on reopening plans, but top public health officials in Canada are urging people to stick with measures aimed at reducing risk of infection, including staying home if sick, physical distancing, rigorous handwashing and wearing masks in places where physical distance can’t be maintained.
Read on for a look at what’s happening around the world.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for immediate action to avoid a “global food emergency,” saying more than 820 million people are hungry, about 144 million children under the age of five have stunted growth, and the COVID-19 pandemic is making things worse.
<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> is a threat to food security and nutrition, especially to the most vulnerable.<br><br>Without immediate action, we could soon face a massive global food emergency with disastrous long term impacts on hundreds of millions of children and adults.<a href=”https://t.co/wYGezfdu8U”>https://t.co/wYGezfdu8U</a> <a href=”https://t.co/6VHdmJJb5J”>pic.twitter.com/6VHdmJJb5J</a>
In China, Hong Kong will let some students from the mainland return to resume classes from June 15. School buses will be arranged, and students will be subjected to health checks including temperature screening and submission of health declaration forms in Hong Kong and bordering Shenzhen as they commute to school.
In Russia, Moscow residents began to resume their normal routines on Tuesday as a lockdown designed to curb the spread of the virus was lifted after more than two months, even though the Russian capital is reporting more than 1,000 cases daily.
Poland has released its latest version of a smartphone application to help to track coronavirus outbreaks, which has been adapted to address concerns about privacy.
Romania’s president says a state of alert in place since May 15 to fight the virus must be extended by another 30 days until the middle of July.
Britain has abandoned plans to have all younger children return to school in England before the summer holidays after school principals raised concerns about coronavirus-related social distancing requirements.
Spain will continue to make wearing masks in public mandatory after the country’s state of emergency ends on June 21 until a cure or vaccine for the coronavirus is found.
Portugal will allow shopping malls in the Lisbon region to reopen next Monday, even though most new coronavirus infections in recent days have emerged there.
In India, Delhi’s infections of coronavirus will climb to more than half a million by the end of July and it does not have the hospital capacity to handle such an outbreak, the city state’s deputy chief minister said.
In Libya, the number of cases has surged this month, with health authorities blaming the biggest outbreak in a southern city on the repatriation of nationals stranded abroad.
Qatar will start lifting restrictions under a four-phase plan starting on June 15, when some mosques can reopen and flights can depart.
In Australia, the South Australia state government says it will allow 2,000 fans to attend an Australian rules football match — the country’s first return to professional sports since restrictions were implemented — but won’t allow a Black Lives Matter rally protesting the death of George Floyd on the same day.
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