• The World Health Organization held a media briefing to update the public on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The briefing was streamed live on Monday 27 April.
  • Given the many unknowns surrounding COVID-19, vigilance will be essential.

Governments easing lockdown restrictions are facing a new challenge: How to prevent a rebound in transmission. Given the many unknowns surrounding COVID-19, a vigilant, step-wise approach will be key in the months ahead, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said at a briefing in Geneva Monday.

COVID-19 is a new coronavirus and its behavior is still not yet truly known, officials reiterated.

Lockdowns help suppress the spread of the disease by preventing its ability to find new victims, said Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme. “In doing that, you're putting that pressure on the virus's capacity to survive.”

He added: “I think it's very logical that if you lift that pressure too quickly, the virus can jump back.”

That rebound could happen at any time if measures aren't taken to prevent it. “We don't know what's going to happen in two, three, four or five months when we may see a reemergence of the disease.”

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Given the unknowns, predicting the best exit strategy can be difficult, said officials. Many experts agree that mass gatherings should still be avoided, explained Ryan. But other questions concerning when certain workers can return to their jobs and what parts of the economy should reopen first are more difficult to answer. “We don't know for sure which are the measures that will result in a successful exit strategy.”

Localities must look closely at their populations, considering how to protect their most vulnerable, and make decisions based on their specific context, said Ryan.

Relaxed restrictions must still be complemented by hygiene measures, physical distancing and community participation. On the public health side, surveillance, case finding, contact tracing and quarantining will continue to be essential.

“The second wave is in our hands,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General.

Even as communities put safeguards in place to strengthen their health systems and act with caution, “nothing is certain", said Ryan, “that's why we're watching very closely each and every country to see what lessons are being learned and we will ensure that those lessons are shared between countries".

“Four months into a global pandemic, a large proportion of the population still remains susceptible."

—Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead

Early results from seroepidemiology data have begun to show the extent of the infection in people who may have been missed by surveillance measures, said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead. This tool is helping experts detect antibody levels in those individuals, she said.

The results currently available suggest that there are many more people the disease can infect, said Van Kerkhove, making it all the more important that communities remain vigilant to identify cases and stamp them out quickly.

“It's important that we understand at this point in time, four months into a global pandemic, a large proportion of the population still remains susceptible," said Van Kerkhove.