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WHO: ‘Extreme vigilance’ vital to exit from lockdowns

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GENEVA: The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday that "extreme vigilance" was needed as countries begin to exit from lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, amid concerns about a second wave of infections.

Germany earlier reported an acceleration in cases after it took early steps to ease its lockdown. South Korea, another country that had succeeded in limiting infections, has seen a new outbreak in nightclubs.

"Now we are seeing some hope as many countries exit these so-called lockdowns," Dr Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies programme, told an online news briefing. But "extreme vigilance is required".

"If the disease persists at a low level without the capacity to investigate clusters, there's always the risk that the virus takes off again," he said.

Governments are struggling with the question of how to reopen their economies while still containing Covid-19.

Dr Ryan said he was hopeful that Germany and South Korea would be able to suppress new clusters and praised their surveillance, which he said was key to avoiding large second waves.

"It's really important that we hold up examples of countries who are willing to open their eyes and willing to keep their eyes open," he said.

In contrast, he said other countries, without naming them, were "trying to drive through this blindly".

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the same briefing that lifting restrictions was "complex and difficult" and the "slow, steady lifting of lockdowns" was key to protecting lives.

He said Germany, South Korea and China, which has reported a new cluster in its original epicentre, Wuhan, all had systems in place to respond to any resurgence in cases.

"Until there is a vaccine, the comprehensive package of measures is our most effective set of tools to tackle the virus."

WHO officials stressed that early studies point to lower-than-expected antibody levels against the disease within the general population.

Dr Ryan warned countries that have "lax measures" in place against counting on herd immunity. - REUTERS