The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that countries seeing a decline in COVID-19 infections could still face an “immediate second peak” if they let up too soon on measures to halt the outbreak.
During a media briefing on Monday, Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, was quoted as saying by CNN that right now, “we are right in the middle of the first wave, globally.”
“We’re still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up,” he added.
He told reporters during the briefing that epidemics often come in waves, which means that outbreaks could come back later this year in places where the first wave has subsided. There was also a chance that infection rates could rise once again more quickly if measures to halt the first wave were lifted too soon.
“We need to be also cognizant of the fact that the disease can jump up at any time. We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now that it’s going to keep going down, and the way to get a number of months to get ready for a second wave – we may get a second peak in this way,” Ryan said.
Ryan warned that a second peak or wave could come during the normal influenza season, “which will greatly complicate things for disease control.”
He said countries in Europe and North America should “continue to put in place the public health and social measures, the surveillance measures, the testing measures and a comprehensive strategy to ensure that we continue on a downwards trajectory and we don’t have an immediate second peak.”
Many European countries and US states have taken steps in recent weeks to lift lockdown measures that curbed the spread of the disease but caused severe harm to economies.
Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO infectious disease epidemiologist, said “all countries need to remain on high alert here. All countries need to be ready to rapidly detect cases, even countries that have had success in suppression. … Even countries that have seen a decline in cases must remain ready.”
Van Kerkhove stated further that if given the opportunity, the virus will start an outbreak.
“A hallmark of coronaviruses is its ability to amplify in certain settings, its ability to cause transmission – or super spreading events. And we are seeing in a number of situations in these closed settings. When the virus has an opportunity, it can transmit readily,” she added.