Story at a glance
- The study says countries will have to find a balance between resuming economic activities and keeping controls in place to prevent an increase in infections until there’s a vaccine available.
- The lockdown of Wuhan in Hubei province, the city the coronavirus is believed to have emerged in last year, was lifted Wednesday, with some restrictions in place.
- Health officials say a vaccine could take 12 to 18 months.
A new study from researchers based in Hong Kong is warning countries that completely ending lockdown restrictions too soon before a COVID-19 vaccine is available could lead to a resurgence of cases.
Researchers concluded aggressive lockdown measures in China brought the first wave of COVID-19 to an end, but said the country now has to be proactive to prevent a second, more destructive wave without herd immunity through immunizations.
“While these control measures appear to have reduced the number of infections to very low levels, without herd immunity against COVID-19, cases could easily resurge as businesses, factory operations, and schools gradually resume and increase social mixing, particularly given the increasing risk of imported cases from overseas as COVID-19 continues to spread globally,” Professor Joseph T Wu, who co-led the research, said in a statement.
China has lowered its reproduction number — the average number of people whom each person with COVID-19 will infect — from two or three to below one, causing the epidemic in the country to shrink. But researchers say that number could rise again if normal life continues too quickly.
“Although control policies such as physical distancing and behavioral change are likely to be maintained for some time, proactively striking a balance between resuming economic activities and keeping the reproductive number below one is likely to be the best strategy until effective vaccines become widely available,” Wu said in a statement.
China has not reported any new domestic cases since March 19, and the more than 70-day lockdown of Wuhan in Hubei province, the city the coronavirus is believed to have emerged from last year, was lifted Wednesday, with some restrictions in place.
Health officials have said it could take 12 to 18 months to develop and distribute an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
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The U.S. has not enforced a national lockdown, but the federal government has issued guidance advising people to stay home as much as possible and to not gather in groups of more than 10 people through the end of April. The majority of states have asked residents to only leave their homes for essential services, like buying food and medicine.
Health experts have called for keeping social distancing restrictions in place until the U.S. sees a significant and consistent drop in the number of hospitalizations from the virus.
New York, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., reported Thursday its lowest number of hospitalizations in a 24-hour period since the beginning of the outbreak due to social distancing requirements.
The U.S. currently leads the world in confirmed cases, with more than 465,000 and more than 16,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
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