Governments considering lifting lockdown measures should do so carefully and in stages, says WHO official Takeshi Kasai.
The World Health Organization warned on Tuesday that any lifting of lockdowns to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus must be gradual, and if restrictions were to be relaxed too soon, there would be a resurgence of infections.
Lockdown measures have proved effective, and people must be ready for a new way of living to allow society to function while the coronavirus is being kept in check, said Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
We must adapt our lives and health systems along with the epidemic, Kasai told an online press conference.
"At least until a vaccine, or a very effective treatment, is found, this process will need to become our new normal."
Governments considering lifting lockdown measures should do so carefully and in stages, and continue to monitor the epidemic situation, he said. So long as the coronavirus is circulating, no country is safe from a potentially overwhelming outbreak, he said.
"Individuals and society need to be ready for a new way of living," he said.
While the Western Pacific has in recent weeks been much less hard hit by the epidemic than the United States or Europe, there has been an increase in cases in Japan and Singapore, among other countries.
Kasai also warned that the epidemic must not disrupt vaccination programmes against other diseases like polio, measles and rubella. Otherwise the Western Pacific could face a new crisis when health systems are already strained, he said.
In a sign of growing anxiety, Indian Railways, one of the world's biggest networks, cancelled all services except suburban and goods trains until March 31. The move will affect more than 20 million passengers a day and comes after several people tested positive for the virus after trips.
Washington ratcheted up tensions over the pandemic by accusing China of trying to steal research into a vaccine, while US President Donald Trump upped the rhetoric, with a colourful phrase that could anger Beijing.
With more than 1.277 million cases, including 70,009 deaths, reported in 191 countries and territories around the world since the virus emerged in China in December, COVID-19 poses an unprecedented challenge to humanity.
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