• The World Health Organization held a media briefing on 13 May to update the public on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
  • Lockdowns are not one-size-fits-all, nor a comprehensive solution for fighting coronavirus, the WHO warned.

The word “lockdown” has become a new addition to our vocabularies under COVID-19, but the word is often misconstrued and misunderstood, World Health Organization (WHO) officials warned at a briefing in Geneva on Wednesday. Such misunderstandings can erode public support for key public health measures or weaken a country’s ability to effectively fight the virus.

There is no universal definition for what constitutes a lockdown.

Lockdowns, explained Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead, are a set of measures countries have taken that include individual- and community-level restrictions of movement. They can include full- or partial closures of different types of facilities, such as schools or workplaces.

“I think there's this misconception that a lockdown is one thing...it's not," Van Kerkhove said.

Not all countries have needed to close all types of facilities, she added. Some countries have been able to control the virus and still leave workplaces open, or even bars and nightclubs.

“The word 'lockdown' makes it sound like an entire country has shut down overnight," she said. "And it's it's just not the case. It isn't an all or nothing.”

Importantly, lockdowns alone cannot eradicate COVID-19. They are one part of a larger six-part strategy WHO officials outlined in March. These measures, along with testing and tracing, can help track and slow the spread of the virus. They can be applied by any country, regardless of its transmission phase. "It must be a comprehensive approach," said Van Kerkhove.

As lockdowns have differed across countries, the measures to lift them will differ as well. “It's going to take some time to come out of this pandemic...which will differ based on the country itself," Van Kerkhove said.

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.

But some countries still don't understand the part that lockdowns play in a larger strategy, the WHO cautioned. “There’s some magical thinking going on...that lockdowns work perfectly and that unlocking lockdowns will go great," said Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

Since the outbreak began last December, there have been more than 4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the globe. According to WHO officials, risk remains high at national, regional and global levels - and vigilance will continue to be key. “There's a long, long way to go,” stressed Ryan.