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Nations lifting lockdown curbs too quickly will see jump in cases: WHO

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World Health Organisation warns of more lockdowns if countries ease restrictions too soon

ZURICH/GENEVA: The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Wednesday that countries emerging from restrictions to halt the coronavirus must proceed "extremely carefully" or risk a rapid rise in new cases.

Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries needed to ensure they had adequate measures to control the spread of the Covid-19 respiratory disease like tracking systems and quarantine provision.

"The risk of returning to lockdown remains very real if countries do not manage the transition extremely carefully and in a phased approach," he said at a virtual briefing in Geneva.

WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove supported his concerns about the disease, which has infected 3.71 million globally and killed more than 258,000 people, according to a Reuters tally.

"If lockdown measures are lifted too quickly, the virus can take off," Dr Van Kerkhove told the briefing.

In a separate development, WHO said coronavirus patients declared recovered who later test positive are still expelling dead lung cells rather than getting a new infection.

South Korean health officials reported more than 100 such cases in April, raising concerns that patients who had recovered could become reinfected.

"We are aware that some patients test positive after they clinically recover," said a WHO spokesman, without making specific reference to the South Korean cases.

"From what we currently know - and this is based on very recent data - it seems that these patients are expelling leftover materials from their lungs, as part of the recovery phase."

People infected with the coronavirus build up antibodies starting a week or so after infection or the onset of symptoms, research has shown.

But experts say it is still not clear whether the body systematically builds up enough immunity to ward off a new attack by the virus or, if it does, how long such immunity lasts.


As for the recovered patients who tested negative and then, weeks later, positive, more research is needed, according to the WHO.

"We need systematic collection of samples from recovered patients to better understand how long they shed live virus," the spokesman said.

"We also need to understand if this means they can pass the virus to other people."

In a recent interview with BBC, Dr Van Kerhove explained the "dead cell" scenario.

"As the lungs heal, there are parts of the lung that are dead cells that are coming up. These are fragments of the lungs that are actually testing positive," she said.

"It is not infectious virus, it's not reactivation. It is actually part of the healing process," she added.

"Does that mean they have immunity? Does that mean they have a strong protection against reinfection?

"We don't know the answer to that yet." - AFP, REUTERS