The European Commission announced the concept of short-time work (reducing employees hours) on 1 April as an initiative of helping people keep their jobs and go back to full work as soon as the lockdown will be over. We would like to support this initiative and share our evidence-based analysis showing that healthy adults should be allowed to resume their daily lives as soon as possible to have a fully-operated system efficiently tackle the pandemic.
New data released in the US on Thursday 2 April showed 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the previous week. The spike in new jobless claims is believed to result from the pandemic control lockdowns that have kept Americans from their workplaces and forced many companies to shutter or to lay off employees. We all know that unemployment could not only affect people’s finances but also their ability of taking care of their health.
In addition, “stay home” orders in some states in the US have also affected certain senior care operations; for example, free meal delivery to the seniors were delayed or rerouted even though the elderly are actually a group of people who need extra care most during the pandemic. It is better that healthy adults are allowed to resume their routines soon to help the community get back to normal early.
According to a report published by Italy’s National Health Institute on 17 March, 96.3% of fatal victims in Italy were patients over 60 years old. 99.2% of Italy’s coronavirus fatalities were people with at least one chronic medical condition, such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Based on the demographic, we suggest the system should have the vulnerable stay home and, more importantly, offer them extra care. Young and middle-aged adults without serious health conditions should keep their routines to maintain the community’s full operations and, in addition, to help many households avoid the miserable economic consequences of workplace shutdowns.
Only when the system is fully-operatation are we able to take good care of the vulnerable and to end the pandemic. It is worth to noting that Hong Kong and Taiwan seem to have contained the spread pretty well and Japan and South Korea have been seeing a good trend in calming down the epidemic. All countries mentioned above did not enforce a nationwide lockdown or issue “stay home” orders at all.
Germany has not shut down daily life either; only food and entertainment outlets have been closed since the end of March. Germany has been conducting intensive testing and strictly quarantines sick people and their contacts. It has also made its medical system ready for a pandemic. Therefore, as of 28 March, Germany has had around 53,000 confirmed cases and 395 deaths recorded. Its case fatality rate (CFR) is 0.7% while a collaboration of Hong Kong University and Harvard University estimated the overall CFR of COVID-19 would be 1.4%. More impressively, Germany has now started taking care of patients flown in from Italy and France.
What Germany is doing is actually following flu control protocols. Although COVID-19 is not flu, the coronavirus appears to be showing a highly contagious nature and “flu-like pandemic pattern” after so many countries around the world reported cases. Thoroughly following “modern” flu control protocols is therefore the most relevant and sustainable measure for most countries.
What does “modern” flu control protocols mean? The protocols should include a surveillance network that asks clinics and hospitals to report patients with flu-like symptoms for further virus testing and early advanced treatments. Furthermore, they also entail adjusting resource allocation to help the medical community get ready for a huge amount of patients to save the vulnerable, and reminding healthy people to practice good hygiene all the time as well as implementing home or institutional quarantine on sick people and their contacts to flatten the epidemic curve.
Lockdown probably worked well during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic - but not now. Lockdown probably helped China, but it does not fit all countries. We are looking forward to seeing the European Commission helping its member countries to ease their lockdowns as soon as possible. We are also hoping the EU shows the world a good leadership and helps countries in other regions cope with the pandemic together in the near future.
Pingyuan “Edward” Lu is the Director of the Public Health Office for NGO HSVG Mission.
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