Coronavirus Second Wave Could Happen If Lockdowns Are Lifted, Warns WHO Chief: 'The Virus Remains Extremely Dangerous'

The head of the World Health Agency (WHO) is urging countries against complacency as the coronavirus lockdown drags on—warning "this virus remains extremely dangerous" and a resurgence may be imminent if guidelines aren't abided by.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told audiences at a media briefing on Wednesday that complacency is "one of the greatest dangers we face now."

"People in countries with stay-at-home orders are understandably frustrated with being confined to their homes for weeks on end," said Ghebreyesus.

"People understandably want to get on with their lives, because their lives and livelihoods are at stake," he continued."That's what WHO wants too. And that's what we are working for, all day, every day."

Ghebreyesus explained that while epidemics in Western Europe appear to be stable or declining, rates of infection are increasing in other parts of the world—including Africa, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. Indeed, the WHO has warned Africa could be the next epicenter for the pandemic as the continent reports a sharp rise in the number of cases.

"Most countries are still in the early stages of their epidemics," said Ghebreyesus, adding some places affected early in the pandemic have started to see "a resurgence" in the number of cases.

The warning follows a surge in cases in Singapore after it was thought the country had managed to "neutralize" the illness through a policy of rigorous testing and fastidious tracing. The country more than doubled the cumulative number of cases reported since the start of the outbreak in the space of seven days as of last Friday.

Meanwhile, officials in states such as Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina have suggested a relaxation of social distancing measures as early as this week, raising concerns that parts of the U.S. could see a spike in cases of COVID-19.

Ghebreyesus explained that early evidence indicates most of the world remains susceptible to infection and epidemics can swiftly reignite if communities become complacent.

"Make no mistake: we have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time," he said.

Ghebreyesus used the opportunity to highlight the success of social distancing, saying "there's no question" it helped slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

He reiterated the public health measures advocated by the WHO; which include finding, isolating, testing and caring for every case, tracing and quarantining every contact and engaging citizens.

"The fight cannot be effective without empowering people and without the full participation of our people," he said.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Ghebreyesus said Wednesday complacency is one of the biggest dangers we face. ABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty

According to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard, there have been more than 2.6 million cases of COVID-19 reported across the world since the outbreak was identified in December 2019—more 840,000 of which have been in the U.S. There have been over 180,000 deaths as a result of the illness, including more than 46,000 people in the U.S.

Ghebreyesus said "the world will not and cannot go back to the way things were" before the beginning of the crisis

"There must be a "new normal"—a world that is healthier, safer and better prepared," he added.

The below infographic from Statista shows the countries with the most COVID-19 cases as of April 23, 2020 at 1:30 a.m. EST.

statista, covid19, coronavirus,
A map showing the countries with the most known COVID-19 cases. Statista

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.