“Let it rip” approach detrimental to global anti-pandemic efforts

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In this mobile phone photo, nucleic acid testing is underway at a COVID-19 testing site in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning Province, March 26, 2022. (Xinhua/Li Ang)
In this mobile phone photo, nucleic acid testing is underway at a COVID-19 testing site in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning Province, March 26, 2022. (Xinhua/Li Ang)

By Gao Qiao

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern, said the World Health Organization (WHO) in a recent statement, calling on countries to maintain response measures.

However, some countries have decided to “lie flat” with the “let it rip” approach. For instance, many states of the U.S. have ended mask mandates, relaxed indoor control measures and shut down COVID testing sites. The UK has removed all COVID-19 restrictions and stopped offering free COVID-19 testing for the general public.

Germany cancelled most of its control measures and some other countries, including Switzerland, removed them all. Besides, compliance with control measures in Sweden has always been voluntary rather than mandatory since the outbreak of COVID-19, and the country has never implemented lockdown or shut down enterprises to prevent the spread of the virus.

Is the “let it rip” approach making situations better in these countries?

Not really.

A report written by American public health experts found that the U.S. saw the largest decline in life expectancy over the past two years among the 20 wealthy countries the report studied. And the country was the only one that experienced a drop in life expectancy in both 2020 and 2021, while the rest saw a rebound last year after undergoing a slight decline in 2020.

According to statistics released by the Office for National Statistics of the UK earlier this month, one in 13 people in the country was estimated to have been infected with the virus, nearly 20 times the average prevalence recorded previously.

As a matter of fact, the “let it rip” approach not only imposes health and safety risks against the people in the countries that adopt it, but also impedes global efforts to fight the virus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently warned that some countries have relaxed public health and social measures and reduced testing, impacting thus the global ability to monitor evolution of the virus.

What’s even worse, the instability brought by Western countries’ “let it rip” approach is making COVID-19 control much more difficult for developing countries.

Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization noted that vaccination gaps will keep Latin America at risk during future waves. A study suggests that more than two-thirds of all Africans have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, adding that the virus is still spreading and may evolve into more dangerous variants.

Studies show that the mortality during Omicron waves was higher than that when Delta prevailed, though the death rate in the recent days declined. The Omicron variant is still dangerous. It is especially threatening aging groups and patients with serious underlying diseases. Therefore, timely nucleic acid testing, effective control measures and fair vaccination are still what’s needed today.

The WHO Emergency Committee for COVID-19 suggested that countries continue to use evidence-informed and risk-based public health and social measures, and be prepared to scale up these measures rapidly in response to changes in the virus and the population immunity.

Recently, the surging infections have already prompted some countries to restart control measures that had been relaxed or canceled. The White House declared to extend the U.S. coronavirus public health emergency on April 13, and Germany reversed course on plans to end mandatory quarantine. Facing the Omicron sublineage BA.2, which is more transmissible and undetectable, countries “lying flat” are just seesawing their response measures.

In front of a pandemic that is unseen in a century and concerns the future of mankind, countries are not riding separately in some 190 small boats, but are rather all in a giant ship on which their shared destiny hinges. Only with science-based and firm control measures can they jointly walk out of the shadows and embrace a bright future.

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