The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Sunday that it no longer recommends economic lockdowns to fight the novel coronavirus, effectively reversing its position.
Back in July, after the first wave of coronavirus infections tapered off, the WHO warned that countries may have to return to full lockdown later in the summer in order to avoid or stall the second wave of COVID-19. At the time, CBS News reports, the WHO was also cautioning countries to release lockdown measures slowly and only when data clearly showed a decline in confirmed cases.
Now, though, the WHO is warning countries facing the feared second wave to “stop using lockdowns as your primary control method,” per News.co.au.
“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” the group’s envoy, Dr. David Nabarro, told world health leaders and media on Sunday. “The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”
The WHO has never acknowledged a change in policy on the subject, but its envoy now says that complete economic lockdowns, like the kind occasionally proposed by American lawmakers unsatisfied with the pandemic’s trajectory in the United States, have dire economic consequences and could be responsible for increasing poverty.
“Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer,” Dr. Nabarro remarked, noting that lockdowns don’t simply affect domestic economic production, but also tourism and global trade.
“Just look at what’s happened to the tourism industry in the Caribbean, for example, or in the Pacific because people aren’t taking their holidays,” Nabarro said. “Look what’s happened to smallholder farmers all over the world. Look what’s happening to poverty levels. It seems that we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition.”
“And so, we really do appeal to all world leaders: stop using lockdown as your primary control method. Develop better systems for doing it. Work together and learn from each other,” he concluded.
The WHO has had a difficult time handling the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, despite being formed as a global disease response entity. Initially, when the virus was still contained within China, the WHO adopted the Asian powerhouse’s views on the disease, insisting, until early February, that the disease was not being transmitted from human to human and cautioning nations, like the United States, planning to cut off international travel to disease hotspots in order to curtail the spread.
The news of the WHO’s apparent change in policy comes just as countries in Europe look to be experiencing their second wave of the virus. COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are leveling off or declining according to recent data, but countries like Spain and Germany are now bracing for a sharp increase in cases, according to The Associated Press.