'Certainly not the peak yet': WHO's coronavirus warning as countries ease restrictions

The World Health Organisation has warned the coronavirus outbreak has far from reached its peak as several countries begin to ease their restrictions.

WHO spokeswoman Dr Margaret Harris stressed the worst of the outbreak was far from over, pointing to vulnerable continents such as South America and Africa, which have yet to see a widespread outbreak witnessed in other parts of the world.

“The overall world outbreak, 90 per cent of cases are coming from Europe and the United States of America. So we are certainly not seeing the peak yet,” she told a briefing in Geneva on Tuesday (local time).

Spain, a country which has the second most cases globally, began easing restrictions in a bid to revive its collapsed economy – a difficult decision facing dozens of countries as they decide between recovering financially or keeping deaths to a bare minimum.

A woman in Spain's San Sebastian hands a mask to another woman as coronavirus measures are eased.
A woman in Spain's San Sebastian hands out masks to the public as lockdown measures are eased. Source: Getty

And in Italy, the initial European epicentre, some shops began opening their doors after five weeks of lockdown.

There has been continued discussion in Australia on when the nation will lift current restrictions and has prompted varying responses from the countries’ leaders.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian appears to have so far been the most upfront about her government’s stance and previously hinted eased restrictions were a matter of weeks away if the health advice allowed.

But Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has stressed the state could ramp up restrictions further, while on Tuesday Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk asked if we can “all just put a hold on easing restrictions” after repeated questioning on the matter.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Thursday suggested restrictions could be eased earlier than the government’s suggested timeframe, but later clarified that was dependent on meeting certain criteria.

On Monday (local time), WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries must meet six criteria before they can consider lifting restrictions.

Dr Harris stressed the most important of those was ensuring against a sudden surge in cases.

“The most important one is, is your transmission controlled?” she said.

Dr Mike Ryan, tasked with leading WHO’s response to COVID-19, suggested lifting restrictions at this stage was too early.

“Now is the time for vigilance, now is the time to double down, now is the time to be very, very careful,” he warned.

On Monday, just 40 cases were confirmed across Australia and continued its significant drop of daily cases which peaked at more than 400 just over two weeks ago.

Yet the federal and state governments have continued to stress community transmission, particularly where the source is unknown, is of real concern and is pivotal in whether the nation can truly get to grips with the virus.

A concern for many countries is their ability to continue with such restrictions until a vaccine is developed, prompting many to consider lifting measures in place.

Dr Harris said “we shouldn’t really be expecting” a vaccine for at least 12 months.

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