More lives will be lost and nations will have to keep reimposing tough, “costly” restrictions if coronavirus transmissions are not kept in check, the World Health Organisation has warned.
On Monday, Israel became the first country to announce a return to nationwide lockdown. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is warning that others could be forced to follow suit.
“Lives and livelihoods have been lost, the global economy is in recession and social and political fault lines have been exposed,” Dr Tedros said, adding that the European region was no exception.
“Many of your countries have been the among hardest hit. We are by no means out of the woods.
“If we do not keep transmission in check, more people will lose their lives and there is the real risk of reintroducing so-called lockdown measures that have been so costly.”
As of Tuesday morning, more than 29.11 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 924,141 have died.
Dr Tedros said countries need to prevent “amplifying events” such as gatherings at stadiums, nightclubs and places of worship, which have been linked to “explosive outbreaks”.
Meanwhile, a WHO spokeswoman warned that an increase in cases can be followed several weeks later by an increase in deaths.
“At the moment, despite the case resurgence in Europe, we have not seen death rates as high as it was in the (northern) spring,” she said.
“This can be linked to a variety of reasons including larger proportion of cases among young people who tend to be less severely impacted; protections in place for the most vulnerable; increased testing; better care for severe patients.”
Leaders in the northern hemisphere need to be prepared for the arrival of winter, WHO said.
“As winter approaches and other respiratory pathogens start to circulate including seasonal influenza, we can expect increased risks to older people at this time of year,” the spokeswoman said.
Locked-down Australians eye freedom
Australia is by no means “out of the woods” either, with the death toll rising to 816 on Monday as the nation recorded 39 new cases – 35 in Victoria and four in NSW.
But there is also some good news on the horizon as leaders eye changes to state border rules as well as the potential for more freedoms for regional Victorians.
Pubs and restaurants could reopen for outdoor dining, and Victorians outside the city may soon be able to travel to other country areas if the downward trend in virus cases continues.
Premier Daniel Andrews said on Monday he hoped he would “have very good news for regional Victoria tomorrow. That is subject to the numbers that come in today”.
The numbers look positive: regional Victoria is recording fewer than four cases each day.
SA border reopening in mix
Meanwhile, South Australian Premier Steven Marshall believes a decision on reopening the border with New South Wales and the ACT could come as soon as Tuesday.
ABC reports that Mr Marshall said the Transition Committee would meet to discuss the data about coronavirus cases in NSW and the ACT.
“If they [committee] make a decision … authorising travel with the ACT or NSW, that will be made [public] immediately,” he said on Monday.
“We want to give as much of a leg up to those people who are wanting to travel for business … family reunions … as soon as possible.
“The numbers are looking really good, and it’s obviously a decision that the Transition Committee needs to decide. But if they give us that advice tomorrow, we’ll be very quick to act on that.”
Christmas in a hub?
Further north, a federal MP has put forward a novel idea to help Australians stranded overseas get back home in time for Christmas.
Far North Queensland federal MP Warren Entsch is calling for a quarantine hub to be established in Cairns.
Heeding calls for states to increase their hotel quarantine capacity after the July capping of 4000 people per week, Mr Entsch said Cairns was ideal for a hub as many hotels in the tropical city were empty because of travel restrictions.
States are under pressure to boost the capacity of their COVID-19 hotel quarantine schemes to allow more people to return home.
Currently travellers who are able to get back must spend 14 days quarantining in a hotel at their own expense.
The Northern Territory also said it was open to quarantining some of the more than 25,000 Australians stuck overseas if a cap on international arrivals is lifted.
Health Minister Natasha Fyles says the NT government has been talking with the federal government about using the Howard Springs facility for the job.
“It is really difficult for Australians caught up overseas,” she told reporters on Monday.
“We’ve all heard the stories of people that have inadvertently been caught up and are now stuck in countries where there are no flights or if there are they are hugely expensive”.
Ms Fyles said the former workers camp at Howard Springs, near Darwin, was “well set up” and could handle up to 3000 people.
“There is certainly room, it’s huge,” she said.
“But there would be a lot of work to be undertaken if we were to see international flights arriving into the Northern Territory
“It’s the health and safety of Territorians that comes first, but NT is certainly open to that.”
Ms Fyles said the facility had already housed people who were evacuated from Wuhan in China and the Diamond Princess cruise ship at the start of the pandemic.