COVID-19

Science should inform decision to ease lockdown

Governments, citizens must exercise a lot of caution as they grapple with the decision.

In Summary
  • The German model is one we can certainly emulate, and keeping the reproduction rate below 1.1 is critical.
  • Many experts believe an effective Covid-19 vaccine in 18 months is unlikely.
Police use a dog to barricade the gate to California Estate in Eastleigh Nairobi.
Police use a dog to barricade the gate to California Estate in Eastleigh Nairobi.
Image: Fredrick Omondi

The United States of America, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and Germany account for more than 70 per cent of Covid-19 deaths globally. Countries across Europe have reported a decline in daily death toll as lockdown measures begin to ease.

Italy will lift travel restrictions to and from the country by June 3, 2020. Italian factories and parks were reopened early in May. Catholic churches are also set to resume mass. In Germany, the Bundesliga resumed last Saturday after more than two months without any games because of the coronavirus pandemic. All games are being played without fans in the stadium.

The German government recognises that the pandemic is far from over and the country is living in the middle of the pandemic, and not in a post-pandemic period. While Chancellor Angela Merkel announced measures to ease lockdown, there is an “emergency brake” that requires local authorities to reinstate restrictions if cases rise above 50 per 100,000 people.

While there was a surge soon after lockdown was eased, experts advising the German government say there is no reason for concern if the virus reproduction rate is not above 1.1, which means that one infected person is passing the virus to just one other person. The authorities are confident that such low infection rates can be handled with careful surveillance and mass testing.

The approach taken by the US is radically different from that of the Germans. According to Donald Trump, the number of Covid-19 cases is declining and deaths from the disease are tiny and at some point, it will just go away. Last week US President Trump declared the economy will reopen.

“Vaccine or no vaccine, we are back” Trump proclaimed, while promising a vaccine by year end. Many experts, including Dr Rick Bright, the former director of the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, believe an effective Covid-19 vaccine in 18 months is unlikely.

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on livelihoods and the economies. The impact of the virus on human health, young and old, is dreadful. Governments and citizens alike must exercise an abundance of caution as they grapple with the decision to ease or remove lockdown measures. The German model is one we can certainly emulate, and keeping the reproduction rate below 1.1 is critical.

In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta noted that the “whole world is walking through the valley of the shadow of death”. He extended existing national containment measures and added some. The 7pm-5am curfew will continue. Travel in or out of Nairobi Metropolitan Area and the counties of Kilifi, Kwale, Mombasa and Mandera will be restricted until June 6.

Clearly, President Kenyatta is not confident that Kenya has blunted the rate of community spread. On Sunday, May 17, the country recorded 57 new Covid-19 cases, the highest number since the first case was reported in March. Without aggressive community surveillance and targeted testing, it will be hard to determine the right time to ease lockdown measures.