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Onus on local decision-makers to act promptly: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-07-02 19:38

Residents line up for nucleic acid tests at a testing post set up at a primary school in Dongxihu district in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei province, May 15, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

In Beijing, despite an apparent drop in daily infections, and the downgraded risk levels of more areas, there is no sign the municipal authorities are ready to lift the re-instated restrictions to contain the latest spike in locally transmitted COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, several states in the United States are toggling back their reopening and re-imposing social distancing requirements as infections have rebounded.

Elsewhere from Australia to Germany, India, Portugal and the United Kingdom, more and more countries have reportedly modified plans for reopening local economies and social life amid fresh COVID-19 resurgences and concerns about its large-scale comeback.

Judging from conditions at home and abroad, there can be no underestimating the potential of the novel coronavirus to make a comeback, and there is no cause for being overly optimistic about our capacity for its containment.

But the de facto freeze of socioeconomic activities adopted at the peak of the outbreak is obviously unsustainable. It was actually the unbearable financial cost of that enforced hibernation that has driven governments around the world to allow reopening.

The continuously stern warning from the World Health Organization — that the spread of the pandemic keeps "accelerating" globally, and the worst is yet to come — may sound more or less irrelevant to some countries that have accomplished general control over large-scale local transmission. But as more and more countries and regions itch to return to "normalcy", especially as cross-border travels resume, the fragility of the present success of individual countries and regions may become even more conspicuous. Accordingly, in step with a possible second wave, reimposed regional "lockdowns" may be inevitable.

Although scientists worldwide are racing against time and each other trying to find effective therapeutics and vaccines, the only response that has proven effective so far is physical distancing. So the common dilemma facing decision-makers around the world is to balance local needs for reopening and safety guarantees.

Before proven therapeutics and vaccines become available, as the WHO observed, we can only stick to the basics and make full use of currently available tools. Social distancing is the essential strategy for the control of any infectious diseases, especially respiratory diseases, along with good hygiene habits such as hand-washing and mask-wearing, and screening, tracing and isolating. Just as the WHO said, all countries and communities that followed such basic protocol have achieved effective control over local infections. This is also the single most important lesson from this country's own experience over the past months.

Nationwide complete lockdowns can't be sustained for long. But decisive, timely, targeted responses can make a substantial difference in cutting chains of transmission. Whether this is achievable at proper levels, however, hinges ultimately on whether decision-makers compare the pain of prompt actions that result in immediate, regional economic losses with the longer-lasting pain on a larger scale that will come from delaying.

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