Turning on the tap little by little: this is the image that D r Horacio Arruda used to illustrate a gradual resumption of activities in Quebec. Elsewhere in the world, after months of measures to flatten the famous curve, governments are beginning to ease restrictions. With the fear, always, of a new flow that is difficult to contain.
Hokkaido backs up
The island of Hokkaido is a precursor in Japan: it was the first to declare a state of emergency at the end of February. The measurements lasted three weeks. Thorough investigations have been carried out to identify and isolate the contacts of persons infected with COVID – 19. The restrictions – all the same less severe in Japan than in several countries, since a large number of shops have remained open – have borne fruit: the deconfinement began in late March and the students returned to class at the start of the April. But eyes are now turned to Hokkaido, which is currently experiencing a further increase in the number of cases, forcing the island to back down.
For immunologist Tatiana Scorza, professor in the department of biological sciences at UQAM, this is not a failure, but a predictable effect. “The idea is that if you stop confinement, it's normal to see an increase in cases,” she said. What is impossible to predict is the magnitude. “Hence the interest in proceeding in a” very gradual manner “, she specifies.
The South Korean recipe
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the curve of South Korea has aroused envy all over the world; the country has managed to keep a low number of cases, which have spread out over time. So much so that Seoul announced on Thursday that it had no new cases of transmission, the first in more than three months. Its strategy has been to massively screen its inhabitants and to trace all contacts of infected people. A strict quarantine of 14 days is also imposed on people arriving from foreigner – under penalty of prison. Historian Laurence Monnais, director of the Center for Asian Studies at the University of Montreal, attributes the success of several Asian countries to the lessons left by the epidemics. Wearing the mask, widespread in Asia, is not a question of cultural specificity, she underlines for example. “Wearing a mask may be more entrenched in culture, but it's not just that,” she nuances. Culture is born from what? Epidemic and contagious experiences. We realized that this type of measure was effective. The importance of preparation, such as storing masks and training, are other lessons, she said.
Germany has adopted similar strategies by carrying out massive tests quickly and tracing the contacts of patients, becoming “undeniably the country of Europe which has performed best”, underlines Pierre Fournier, dean of the University of Montreal School of Public Health. The rise in the number of cases after a relaxation? “It is expected,” notes Fournier. He recalls that in the absence of a vaccine, scientists consider the successive waves of COVID's return inevitable – 19.
Wuhan on the alert
China has never been entirely confined, recalls Laurence Monnais. However, freedom of movement has been restricted more in infected areas than in the West. The authoritarianism of the country is no stranger to its ability to subject its population to restrictions that would be difficult to pass in Canada. Policies were quickly put in place in Wuhan. However, travel restrictions were lifted only on April 8 in COVID's first home – 19, after 76 days of confinement. The city of 11 million inhabitants is not at the end of his pain: if the measures have eased, fear remains very present.
The measures implemented in New Zealand have been rather strict. Foreigners were banned from entering the country on 19 March, a just under three weeks after confirmation of the first case in the territory. Shortly after, the country declared containment measures, even banning the delivery of restaurant meals. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last week that transmission is no longer active in the community and has gone into gradual easing. If schools are to open on Wednesday, the government continues to ask people to work from home as much as possible. Fears of a too rapid return to old habits remain, however. Police had to intervene last week to disperse a large crowd in Auckland after restaurants had just reopened.
– With the BBC, The Guardian , Agence France-Presse and CNN