Restriction decision a ‘recipe for disaster’
The World Health Organisation has issued a stark warning about easing COVID-19 restrictions too early as many countries, including Australia, are dealing with deadly second waves of the virus.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he understood people were tired of being in lockdown, but warned rushing to open the economy was a "recipe for disaster" if coronavirus transmission wasn't under control.
"WHO fully supports efforts to re-open economies and societies. We want to see children returning to school and people returning to the workplace - but we want to see it done safely,' Dr Tedros said during a media briefing on Monday.
"At the same time, no country can just pretend the pandemic is over. The reality is that this coronavirus spreads easily, it can be fatal to people of all ages, and most people remain susceptible.
"The more control countries have over the virus, the more they can open up. Opening up without having control is a recipe for disaster. It's not one size fits all, it's not all or nothing."
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This warning comes as Victoria struggles with the growing pressure to lift it's tough lockdown measures while still suppressing a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
Premier Daniel Andrews has continually told Victorian residents it is "too early" to ease restrictions right now or even have a clear understanding of when the state can start to reopen.
Even though the state's daily COVID-19 cases were in the low 70s on Monday, Mr Andrews said he couldn't rule out having to extend Melbourne's strict stage four lockdown beyond the September 13 end date.
But to do this the government will need to be granted an extension on the state of emergency powers that allows for the legal framework behind most of the state's restrictions, a move that has prompted outrage from the public.
"If we were to open up with numbers anything like what we have had, even with a really positive trend, then those numbers will explode," Mr Andrews said.
"We will have a seesawing effect where the rules are on and off, that will do enormous damage and it of course means also that we are likely then to have many thousands of people needing hospitalisation and many people dying."
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There has also been pressure from Prime Minister Scott Morrison for Australian states and territories to remove their hard borders, with the PM now putting a Christmas deadline on the restrictions.
"What we need to do is continue to focus on the road back. The restrictions in the arrangements we have today are not things we want to see by Christmas," Mr Morrison said on Monday.
"What we want to know is what is going to happen when we get to know just September 1, but October 1, and November 1, and December 1 and January 1, because our economy needs to continue on the road back."
ESSENTIAL STEPS TO REOPENING
Dr Tedros outlined the four essential things communities must focus on if they want to control the virus enough to start easing restrictions.
The first is to prevent large gatherings, with "explosive outbreaks" across the world linked to crowds at stadiums, nightclubs, places of worship and many other settings.
The WHO Director-General said there are some ways to hold large gatherings safely but the most effective way to reduce significant community transmission is to postpone these types of events.
The second step to reopening the community is to reduce the death rate by giving more protection to vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, people with underlying health conditions and essential workers.
"By protecting those who are most at risk, countries can save lives, prevent people becoming severely ill, and take the pressure off their health systems," Dr Tedros said.
The third essential move is to ensure individuals comply with safety measures such as social distancing, washing their hands and wearing a mask.
Individuals are also urged to avoid the "three Cs": closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.
The fourth factor in safely easing restrictions is for governments to have a clear plan of action on how to find, isolate, test and care for COVID-19 cases, while also quickly tracing and quarantining close contacts.
"Widespread stay-at-home orders can be avoided if countries take temporary and geographically-targeted interventions," Dr Tedros said.
Victorians are eagerly awaiting the reveal of their own roadmap out of lockdown, which Mr Andrews said would be announced on Sunday.
The premier hinted at what the reopening plan would entail but said it was "too early" to lock in the details, claiming another week of coronavirus data was needed to finalise the plan.
Some of the "key principles" the roadmap is expected to cover include:
• Ensuring physical distancing, with venues and businesses following density requirements and limited the number of staff and customers in an enclosed area.
• Making sure staff are working from home wherever possible.
• Wearing a face covering at all times in the workplace and ensuring full PPE is worn in high-risk settings.
• Having high-touch points regularly cleaned, ensuring staff are regularly washing their hands and having hand sanitisers available to staff and customers.
• Acting quickly if a staff member becomes unwell and ensuring they stay home and get tested, even with mild symptoms.
• Hospitality venues may be encouraged to introduce more outdoor eating and service to limit the number of people in enclosed spaces.
Mr Andrews said the current strategy was working to lower COVID-19 cases, but more still needed to be done.
"This strategy is working, but it is too early for us to either open up right now, or put forward a detailed road map as to what that opening up will look like," he said.
"We will defeat this second wave, and if we do it properly and we will, with a phased appropriate, safe and steady opening up, then we will avoid a third wave.
"We will avoid again losing control of this virus, seeing thousands of people in hospital and hundreds of people losing their lives. That is what we are aiming for. A set of rules and opening up that lasts for a very short period of time, but instead, gradually working and finding that COVID normal."
Originally published as Restriction decision a 'recipe for disaster'