WHO to issue guidelines for gradual COVID-19 exit strategy in Europe

The World Health Organisation’s regional office in Europe will release guidelines for countries to start easing restrictions imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus but warns there is ‘no fast track back to normality’

Social distancing measures have included restrictions on the opening of some shops
Social distancing measures have included restrictions on the opening of some shops

Lifting coronavirus restrictions in Europe will depend on the ability of individual countries to fulfil six criteria the WHO regional office will discuss with health ministers tomorrow.

However, WHO Europe regional office director Hans Kluge warned that restrictions will have to be lifted gradually and there were “no quick wins”.

“There is no fast track back to normality and if a country cannot ensure that the six criteria can be met, I urge them to re-think the easing of restrictions,” Kluge said during a briefing on Thursday.

Countries will have to be able to demonstrate an ability to identify and isolate suspect COVID-19 cases immediately and monitor close contacts.

They will also have to ensure their health systems are able to cope with COVID-19 cases while providing other routine medical care services that may have been crowded out because of the focus on the pandemic.

Another aspect that will have to be considered during the transition is the ability of countries to continue to protect vulnerable people, especially those living in homes for the elderly.

The transition will also have to see the continued implementation of social distancing and personal hygiene measures at workplaces, the proper management of importation channels and the continuous engagement with communities.

WHO senior advisor Natasha Azzopardi Muscat said the transition will not be a one-size-fits-all approach and every step to lift restrictions will have to be monitored.

“This is not a one-way street… we may have to evaluate and re-evaluate strategies. This is not going back to normal but moving forward into a new normal,” she cautioned.

Countries have introduced varying degrees of restrictions in a bid to minimise the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

In Malta, travel to and from the country has been halted, schools closed, various retail outlets shut and public gatherings of more than three people banned. The elderly and people with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable have also been ordered to stay inside unless it is absolutely necessary to go out for essential services.

Some European countries where daily infection rates have been falling, have started lifting some of the restrictions.

More in Europe