While the United States is still in the midst of what many experts believe is the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, many other countries are finally seeing infection rates and death tolls decrease. This positive news begs the question: How do countries and their societies come back from strictly imposed COVID-19 restrictions? And which countries have a coronavirus exit strategy in place?
There does seem to be a general consensus—slowly and carefully. It appears countries that are showing signs of recovery are very cautiously lifting restrictions. “To end the confinement, we’re not going to go from black to white; we’re going to go from black to gray,” top French epidemiologist Jean-François Delfraissy stated, according to the Associated Press.
Countries Moving Towards a Shift
Wuhan, China, which is considered to be the epicenter of the disease, finally allowed citizens with a health clearance to leave the city earlier this week. However, that doesn’t mean life as citizens knew it has resumed.
Many restrictions remain in place. Citizens continued to be encouraged to stay at home, and schools remain closed. When out in public, people must wear masks. Mass gatherings aren’t permitted for fear of cross-infection. Chinese officials urge citizens to remain vigilant towards stopping the spread of the virus and preventing a secondary outbreak.
Italy, where the virus has killed almost 18,000 people, has recently seen signs of improvement. While the Italian government is hopeful, they too are cautious about how and when to lift restrictions to ensure the continued health of their people.
Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte told the BBC Wednesday, “We need to pick sectors that can restart their activity. If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month.”
Considerations to Lifting Restrictions
The issue with containing the virus while lifting restrictions is complicated. There is no immediate promise of immunity — be it through vaccination or herd immunity — that’s expected to be viable for at least a year.
There’s also a shortage, or lack of testing, in many countries. Many believe expanded testing will be essential to getting countries back up and running, allowing citizens to re-enter the workplace once they had been confirmed as healthy and a non-carrier.
The US is considering several options. “We’re looking at the concept where we open sections of the country and we’re also looking at the concept where you open up everything,” Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News.
A second task force is also being formed with an eye on getting the economy back up and running by May 1 at the latest. This new team is emphasizing the importance of economic health guidelines being as vital as best health practices.
There are still many unknowns about the mechanics of the virus, how it spreads and how to ensure immunity. That uncertainty coupled with the size of the US and the placement of different “hot spots” throughout the country make the ease of restrictions a convoluted equation.
The resounding message, even among countries who are slowly easing restrictions: Vigilance is key. As other parts of the globe slowly start to re-engage, the US is cautiously optimistic. In White House briefings, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said, “We hope that the April 30 deadline will be enough, but again, as I’ve said, the virus determines the timetable.”