Health experts are increasingly scared of what they say is an almost certainly second wave of deaths and infections that could compel governments around the world to push back, just as the blockades are unfolding.
“We risk a relapse that will be unbearable,” says Dr. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity.
All over the world, the German authorities began to draw up plans in the event of a virus flare-up.
Experts in Italy called for more intensive efforts to identify new victims and locate their contacts.
And France, which has not yet relaxed the closure, has already prepared a “refinancing plan” in the event of a new wave.
“There will be a second wave, but the problem is to what extent. Is it a small wave or a big wave? It is too early to say, ” said Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus department at the French Pasteur Institute.
In the U.S., with about half of the states accelerating their shutdowns to get their economies going again, and cell phone data showing people getting restless and increasingly leaving home, health authorities are concerned.
Many states have not performed the robust tests that experts say are necessary to detect and contain new outbreaks, and many governors persisted before their states met one of the key benchmarks in the Trump administration’s reopening guidelines, a downward trajectory of 14 days for new diseases and infections.
Dr. Lipkin said he is most concerned about two things: the reopening of bars, where people gather and lose their inhibitions, and big gatherings like sporting events, concerts, and plays.
To prevent outbreaks, aggressive contact detection is required, driven by armies of public health workers, hundreds of thousands of people strong, which the U.S. does not yet have, he said.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 3.6 million people and killed more than a quarter of a million people, according to a note from Johns Hopkins University.
Experts agree that the numbers underestimate the size of the disaster due to limited testing, differences in death counting and concealment by some governments.
The US has registered more than 70,000 deaths and 1.2 million confirmed infections, while Europe has reported more than 140,000 deaths.
This week, researchers behind a much-cited University of Washington model nearly doubled their prognosis of deaths in the US to about 134,000 through early August, largely due to easing restrictions on home stays.
President Donald Trump, who pressed hard to ease the constraints that have slowed the economy and threw more than 30 million Americans out of work, withdrew Wednesday on the White House plans unveiled a day earlier to release the coronavirus task force.
He tweeted that the Task Force will continue to meet indefinitely with a “focus on SECURITY & RENEWING OUR COUNTRY”.
The European Union underlined these economic concerns and predicted the worst recession in its history.
And the US unemployment rate for April, which comes out on Friday, is expected to hit as much as 16%, a level last seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In hard-hit Italy, which is beginning to ease restrictions, Dr. Silvio Brusaferro, president of the Superior Institute of Health, called for “a huge investment” in resources to train medical personnel to identify possible new cases of the virus about 30,000 people died nationwide.
He said that contact tracking apps built by dozens of countries and companies aren’t enough to manage future waves of infection.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting the country’s 16 governors that restaurants and other businesses will be reopened in the coming weeks, but that regional authorities should draft a “restriction concept” for each county reporting 50 new cases for each county 100,000 inhabitants within a week.
Lothar Wieler, head of Germany’s national disease control center, said scientists “know with great certainty that there will be a second wave of infections.”