Loosening lockdowns is imperative

Photo: Kigali Today

As many governments across the globe have eased lockdown measures, Rwanda, too, has today loosened the lockdown to reopen public and private businesses. The decision was taken on 30 April 2020, effective today 4 May 2020.

Nevertheless, the decision noted that the fight against the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, and thus called on Rwandans to keep observing the health guidelines. The decision urged people to continue complying with the key preventive measures, notably wearing masks all the times while in public; handwashing and physical distancing.

 

To empathise, wearing masks would be obligatory whenever a person goes to the public places, and so going outside home without it constitutes a non-compliance with the health guidance.

 

In fact, loosening lockdowns comport well with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidance where it urged countries to lift lockdowns gradually, while still being “on the look-out” for Covid-19 and ready to restore restrictions if the virus jumps back. That even if the virus is coming under control, communities must know to still follow physical distancing and hygiene measures, and testing of suspect cases must continue. However, the WHO recognises the difficulty for governments to maintain lockdowns during the pandemic.

 

With signs the pandemic in their hardest-hit nations is slowing, European countries and some parts of the US have already begun to lift restrictions to try to inject life into economies crippled by weeks of closure. For example, a couple of Spanish cities, including Madrid and Barcelona, last weekend flocked to the streets as they were allowed to exercise and walk freely outside as the government eased seven weeks of strict lockdown in a country with one of the highest number of fatalities at nearly 25,000.

China, the first epicentre of the Coronavirus outbreak, was the first to lift lockdown, allowing people to return to work. So what does life look like? To Gao Ting, a Chinese who was in Wuhan, China’s Hubei province, went back to her hometown for Lunar New Year, and was excited about seeing old friends and going out for festive meals. Back then, she recalls that face masks were rare among her colleagues and people on the streets.

When businesses reopened, schools meanwhile slowly began to resume classes in mid-March after being closed since late January. However, health precautions are being taken in schools as in workplaces with staggered start times, temperature checks, masks and social distancing still in place.

Already Germany, Austria and Scandinavian nations are all gradually easing lockdowns as the virus cases slow though they will keep in place social distancing measures, the use of masks and testing to try to track infections. Interestingly, wearing face masks in Germany in mandatory when someone is in a public place.

A fundamental question that has been in everyone’s mind is: how long would lockdown measures take even if they’re, undeniably, taken for legitimately health reasons?

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus disease (or COVID-19) pandemic has created an unprecedented situation across the world with States struggling to treat infected persons and contain the spread of the virus, which has no known cure as yet.

Admittedly, lockdowns have been essential for containing the spread of coronavirus, but they are causing huge disruption, and distress, to livelihood around the world. Here, it is imperative to strike a right balance. There are big decisions for governments to make—when to act, which restrictions to lift, how to contain the virus instead and how to balance saving lives today with long-term damage to society.

Given that countries have different economic muscles, it’s quite important to balance the burden of some countries to support vulnerable citizens in such trying times. In my opinion, loosening lockdown primarily provides a way for millions of poor workers to earn a living once again, and to give a gentle push to the sputtering economic engine. But the top priority is still containing the spread of the disease.

Aside from easing lockdown to make life back to normal, the government of Rwanda’s decision to continue mass screening and testing for COVID-19 nationwide is crucially important. From an epidemiological perspective, it’s vitally important to do antibody tests to make an informed decision. Antibody testing helps in figuring out how widely Covid-19 has spread by identifying those who have had an infection in the past and are now immune. It also helps the government to be able to monitor the state of this pandemic much more accurately.

In doing so, it’s able to determine how to respond, basing on the evidence, and tune its intervention quickly enough to stay ahead of the outbreak trajectory. In this regard, it’s equally necessary to understand the coronavirus’s actual ability to spread, and how to understand that number unmistakably.

While it’s important to keep the pandemic under control, it is fundamental to balance the pressure to let businesses reopen and gradually mitigate socio-economic impact being felt. How best to do that will vary by country, depending on its means, its tolerance for disruption and its people’s collective will.

On the whole, however, the challenge essentially is a three-way tug of war between combating the disease, protecting the economy and keeping society on an even keel.

The writer is a law expert.

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