Lockdowns Have Brought Breathing Space. We Can’t Afford To Waste It.
As the United States continues to struggle to contain a record number of coronavirus cases, European countries have been focused on returning to some sense of normalcy. Bars, restaurants and shops have been reopening. Travel restrictions have been lifted. Workers are commuting to their offices, and tourists are slowly returning to beach resorts and other popular destinations.
In the United Kingdom, the number of coronavirus cases has largely remained flat over the last few weeks, even as the country loosens its lockdown restrictions, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has outlined a potential timeline that would see most remaining constraints on daily life — including social distancing — lifted by the fall.
“It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest — possibly in time for Christmas,” Johnson said on Friday.
The ability to even imagine such a rosy scenario is due to the immense sacrifices that millions of people across Europe have made since national lockdowns were implemented in March, as well as the broad cooperation between scientists and politicians on how to tackle the virus’s first wave.
But it also comes with a large sense of foreboding. Globally, more than 600,000 people have died as a result of the coronavirus, and the pandemic shows little sign of letting up. Indeed, doctors and scientists warn that the fall and winter months could be even deadlier, as colder weather forces people to spend more time indoors and the combination of coronavirus and seasonal illnesses such as the flu could overwhelm public health care systems.
At this critical window when governments and science should be working together, however, the gap between economy-focused politicians and public health experts appears to be widening.
“Let me be blunt: Too many countries are headed in the wrong direction. The virus remains public enemy number one,” World Health Organization Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “If basics are not followed, the only way this pandemic is going to go, it is going to get worse and worse and worse. But it does not have to be this way.”
Instead of declaring victory over the coronavirus and promising a return to the “old normal,” scientists said countries need to do all they can to brace for a second wave.
“I think that we need to really get prepared between now and winter as much as we can,” Ravi Gupta, a professor at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease, told HuffPost U.K. “[There is a] perception all round that things aren’t as bad as they were, which people are seeing as a positive thing, but the reality is we’re still in a quite dangerous place.”