When the Coronavirus lockdown loosens
Alexa Montecillo (The Freeman) - May 4, 2020 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  The recent government announcement of plans to loosen the present enhanced community quarantine to general community quarantine has been met with glee everywhere. People think that it will now be back to normal, life as usual. But it may not be so – certain changes may have to stick.

For sure, conversations are now beginning to circle around what it might feel like to be back at the mall, at one’s favorite restaurant, gym and bar. Everyone’s most excited to go shopping or throw a party with friends or travel somewhere. Everyone in the Philippines is counting down the days towards May 15.

Everyone tends to ignore the fact that the global Covid-19 cases and deaths are still rising each day. The loosening of some restrictions does not necessarily mean that the deadly threat is waning. A little leeway may just have to be granted as the government considers the other great loses that result from imposing stringent quarantine measures.

There’s still much not known about the long-term behavior of this particular coronavirus strain. Jessica Dolcourt, in an article at the website www.cnet.com, points out that “even in countries and cities that are beginning to reopen, the warning remains clear: If cases surge again, the lockdowns will return.” She quotes Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel saying, “We are still far from out of the woods,” even as Germany loosens restrictions. “We are not in the final phase of the pandemic, but still at the beginning.”

Dolcourt adds that in a press conference on April 11, New York governor Andrew Cuomo warned, “The worst that can happen is that we make a misstep and let our emotions get ahead of the facts, and we have to go through this again.” It is indeed important to be conscious of the continuing emergence of new Covid-19 cases, even as governments begin reintegrating and going back to business-as-usual, including taking a phased approach that slowly relaxes some measures.

It’s not clear how life will be as Covid-19 restrictions loosen. One thing is sure, though: Life won’t fully return to ‘normal’ right away. Every country will have its own specific rules, every citizen will have common-sense codes to keep in mind. Jessica Dolcourt cites some of the ‘don’ts’ –

• Don’t throw a party or hit the bars.  Social distancing measures shall continue. Hosting a party at home or crowding into a bar when they reopen will jam people together in a room, giving any lingering coronavirus on an asymptomatic host the prime opportunity to infect others, who then could pass it along.

• Don’t stop washing your hands.  Of course the practice common hygiene shall continue; relaxed restrictions won’t necessarily mean that the coronavirus outbreak is over, even after a vaccine eventually arrives. The good hand-washing habits acquired during this time shall stick around, including longer, more thorough washing with hand soap, and more frequently after coming into contact with people and common surfaces.

• Don’t immediately visit high-risk people.  When quarantine ends, people may feel like rushing out and giving long-missed loved ones and friends a big, warm hug. But that might not be the best thing to do – especially for the elderly and infirm. An approved vaccine for Covid-19 is still thought to be a year out, at the very least. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t see your loved ones for a full year. But do take necessary precautions when that hug can’t wait.

• Don’t plan a big international vacation.  People may have already started a mental list of every place in the world they want to visit once restrictions lift. But have a little patience. While hotel and airfare prices will likely be enticingly cheap when leisure travel if acceptable again, person-to-person contact is impossible to avoid in airports and airplanes (though not because of the ventilation system, according to the WHO), which is one major reason flights have been canceled and international travel effectively banned in many countries. The international movement of people contributed to the coronavirus reaching pandemic proportions so quickly, through person-to-person transmission like coughing and sneezing.

• Don’t get too comfortable.  It’s not certain what will happen next – if a sudden surge in new coronavirus cases will make it necessary to reinstitute quarantine measures, as has happened in Singapore and Hong Kong, or, worse, if a new strain emerges. The smart thing to do is remain cautiously optimistic about regaining your freedom to move, but remain realistic that we don’t know what the future holds. So keep those homemade face masks handy.

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