During the last few months, most countries around the world have spent weeks in lockdowns of different kinds. Now, governments are trying to decide if the time is right to start normal business activity again.
The goal of the lockdowns is keeping people safe, but stay-at-home orders have had a terrible effect on businesses and their workers. The coronavirus pandemic has cost trillions of dollars, put many companies out of business, and ended millions of jobs.
But the decision about whether to allow businesses to reopen is hugely difficult. If lockdowns continue, more companies will struggle and more people will lose their jobs. But if lockdowns are relaxed too soon, even more people could get sick and many could die.
Some countries that were successful at containing the coronavirus, like China and South Korea, have reopened. But they’ve also had new outbreaks of cases, which they’re now trying hard to control.
In China, the coronavirus has showed up again in Wuhan, where it first appeared. The government is now rushing to test all 11 million people who live there.
One challenge about relaxing safety rules is how quickly and easily the virus can spread. In South Korea’s recent outbreak, a single person is linked to the spread of the virus to at least 54 other people.
Australia and New Zealand have been very successful at containing the virus. Together the two countries have had fewer than 9,000 cases. Both countries are now working their way through a slow process of unlocking.
In many European countries, the rate of new cases is now dropping, and governments are also starting to relax lockdown rules. The same is true in Canada.
In other places, governments are racing to reopen, even though their outbreaks aren’t under control.
The United States (US) has far more cases and deaths than any other country – over 1.3 million cases and over 82,000 deaths. But President Donald Trump is eager to reopen. Most states have already begun to relax lockdown rules.
On Tuesday, some of the country’s top medical experts spoke to the US Senate, warning of serious problems if states reopen too early.
In the United Kingdom (UK), Prime Minister Boris Johnson has begun easing up on lockdown rules, even though the UK still has about 5,000 new cases a day. Some experts believe it’s too soon for the UK to relax lockdown rules.
The same is true in Russia and India, where lockdown rules are being relaxed while the number of new cases is still going up. Many African countries are also relaxing lockdown rules in spite of the warnings of health experts.
In the end, there is no single plan that will work for every place. But any government hoping to relax its lockdown should have a plan for testing people and for tracing the contacts of those who get the illness so that outbreaks can be quickly contained.
Even so, much of the success of relaxing lockdown rules will still depend greatly on people carefully following safety rules, like washing hands often, wearing masks, and keeping a safe distance apart.
Did You Know…?
Though people protesting against lockdowns have gotten some attention in the US, researchers report that 71% of Americans still support requiring people to stay at home except for essential reasons.