WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AP) — As Europe and the US loosen their lockdowns against the coronavirus, health experts are expressing growing dread over what they say is an all-but-certain second wave of deaths and infections that could force governments to clamp back down in a drawn-out, two-steps-forward-one-step-back process.
“We’re risking a backslide that will be intolerable,” said Dr Ian Lipkin of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity.
Around the world, German authorities began drawing up plans in case of a resurgence of the virus. Experts in Italy urged intensified efforts to identify new victims and trace their contacts. And France, which hasn’t yet eased its lockdown, has already worked up a “reconfinement plan” in the event of a new wave.
“There will be a second wave, but the problem is to which extent. Is it a small wave or a big wave? It’s too early to say,” said Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus unit at France’s Pasteur Institute.
In the US, with about half of the states easing their shutdowns to get their economies restarted and cellphone data showing that people are becoming restless and increasingly leaving home, public health authorities are worried.
Many states have not put in place the robust testing that experts believe is necessary to detect and contain new outbreaks. And many governors have pushed ahead before their states met one of the key benchmarks in the Trump Administration’s guidelines for reopening — a 14-day downward trajectory in new illnesses and infections.
“If we relax these measures without having the proper public health safeguards in place, we can expect many more cases and, unfortunately, more deaths,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.
Cases have continued to rise steadily in places such as Iowa and Missouri since the governors began reopening, while new infections have yo-yoed in Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.
Lipkin said he is most worried about two things: the reopening of bars, where people crowd together and lose their inhibitions, and large gatherings such as sporting events, concerts and plays. Preventing outbreaks will require aggressive contact tracing powered by armies of public health workers hundreds of thousands of people strong, which the US doesn’t yet have, Lipkin said.
Worldwide the virus has infected more than 3.6 million people and killed over a quarter-million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins that experts agree understates the dimensions of the disaster because of limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by some governments.
The US has recorded over 70,000 deaths and 1.2 million confirmed infections, while Europe has reported more than 140,000 dead.
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