'The way down is much slower than the way up': WHO announces 6 criteria countries need to meet before lifting lockdown restrictions

Wuhan travel ban lifted
Passengers wave before leaving Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in the early hours of April 8, 2020, when the travel ban was lifted.

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  • During a media briefing on COVID-19 April 13, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization's director general, said the pandemic with decelerate much more slowly than it accelerated.

  • He laid out six criteria intended to guide countries as they consider lifting restrictions.

  • Tedros also discussed lower-income countries that are beginning to consider implementing control measures. Stay-at-home measures, he said, should not be used "at the expense of human rights."

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As some countries experience declines in COVID-19 cases and deaths, their leaders and citizens are eager to get back to work, school, and play.

But restrictions need to be lifted slowly and strategically in order to successfully re-enter a new normal rather than lead to waves of lockdowns in the future, the World Health Organization's leaders said during a World Health Organization press briefing April 13,

"While COVID-19 accelerates very fast, it decelerates much more slowly," the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "In other words, the way down is much slower than the way app. That means control measures must be lifted slowly and with control. It cannot happen all at once."

Tedros laid out six criteria that will help countries "chart the way forward" as they consider lifting restrictions:

  • Transmission is controlled;

  • Health system capacities are in place to test, isolate, and treat every case and trace every contact;

  • Outbreak risks are minimized in special settings like health facilities and nursing homes;

  • Preventive measures are in place in workplaces, schools, and other essential places;

  • importation risks can be managed;

  • Communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to adjust to the new norm.

The criteria will be detailed in guidance WHO will update April 14.

"Every country should be implementing a comprehensive set of measures to slow down transmission and save lives with the aim of reaching a steady state of low level or no transmission," Tedros said. "Countries must balance between measures that address the mortality caused by COVID-19 and from other diseases due to other health systems as well as the social economic impacts."

While some countries are considering lifting control measures, others are considering implementing them

Tedros also discussed low-income countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that are looking at whether to implement restrictions.

"In countries with large poor populations, the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions used in some high-income countries may not be practical," he said, because residents may be living in crowded quarters, need to work to survive, may need to go to school to receive meals and, in some cases, escape abuse.

"Physical distancing restrictions are only part of the equation, and there are many other basic public health measures that need to be put in place," he said.  "When stay-at-home measures are used, they must not be at the expense of human rights."

"Each government must assess their situation," he added, "while protecting all their citizens and especially the most vulnerable."

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