Hasty lockdown lifts could slow economic recovery—just ask Dr. Fauci

Baby steps could get us to our destination more quickly than bold leaps.

Hasty lockdown lifts could slow economic recovery—just ask Dr. Fauci

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Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

On Sunday I went for a run around my large local park, where hundreds of Berliners were enjoying the warmth. I had just read an article about how people exercising could pose more of a virus-spreading risk, so, though I have no reason to suspect I am infected, I wore a mask out of a sense of social responsibility. Pandemic etiquette, if you will.

I was the only runner there to do so and, among the not-very-socially-distant crowds on the grass and paths, I counted just six masks. It should have felt calming to see scant evidence of this pandemic, but it was mostly terrifying.

Germany is doing well, relative to countries such as the U.K., in how it is handling COVID-19—which is why so many people are watching our rollback of lockdown restrictions, to see what happens. But I fear comparative success is leading to complacency that could allow a severe second wave. Just because our shops and restaurants are cautiously reopening, that doesn’t mean the coast is clear.

My weekend experience sprang to mind when Anthony Fauci gave remote testimony to senators yesterday, issuing a stark warning about the consequences of moving out of lockdown too quickly.

Without being watchful and ready to respond to early signs of resurgence, the infectious-disease specialist said, “There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control, which in fact, paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery.”

Fauci’s testimony spooked already-nervous markets, knocking 457 points off the Dow. In Europe, where second-wave fears are also taking hold—Germany’s infection rate is worryingly around the crucial threshold of 1—markets are also down this morning.

Our economies certainly need to be restarted, and we should do whatever we can safely manage in order to achieve that. But, to avoid the paradox that Fauci set out so plainly yesterday, we have to accept that baby steps may get us back to our destination of quasi-normality more quickly than bold leaps.

News below.


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Mystery coronavirus case ends Hong Kong’s 23-day streak of no local transmission

It reflects the challenge of eradicating a virus that can spread silently through carriers with no symptoms

Mystery coronavirus case ends Hong Kong’s 23-day streak of no local transmission

Hong Kong’s 23-day streak without a case of local coronavirus transmission has come to an end, reflecting the challenge of eradicating a virus that can spread undetected through carriers with no symptoms.

The case of a 66-year-old woman with no recent travel history becoming infected, confirmed by the government in a briefing on Wednesday, dashes hope that the city had successfully contained the virus after nearly four months of school closures and social distancing measures.

Her five-year-old granddaughter has also been confirmed to be infected, while six other family members have displayed symptoms and are now in isolation in hospital, said Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the health department’s communicable disease branch.

The woman, who lives in the neighborhood of Tsuen Wan, first developed a fever last Friday and tested positive on Tuesday, she said. Officials don’t yet know how she picked up the infection.

The emergence of hidden local transmission chains is a setback to the government’s plan to reopen schools and loosen border restrictions with mainland China as cases dwindle. After months of social distancing measures, Hong Kong was on verge of reverting to normal life. Instead, the Asian financial hub now faces a potential resurgence of cases as it’s unclear how many people the woman came into contact with before her infection was identified.

Health officials are testing all residents in the two housing blocks that the woman visited, said Chuang.

Besides the woman and her granddaughter, a third case of a traveler returning from Pakistan was also reported on Wednesday.

“This is the challenge of Covid-19, the fact that so many cases are asymptomatic,” said Nicholas Thomas, an associate professor at the City University of Hong Kong. “Even though there have been no cases for nearly three weeks, that doesn’t mean that the virus is not in circulation. This is a problem not just for Hong Kong but for all countries as they seek to move out of lockdown and restart their economies.”

The resurgence of cases will complicate the political debate in Hong Kong on how quickly social distancing measures should be eased. While Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s administration eased limits on social gatherings to eight people earlier this month, the rule has come under pressure for being arbitrarily designed to forestall street protests, which in any case have re-emerged.

Separately, Hong Kong’s education chief said on Wednesday that the government wouldn’t push back the reopening of schools, currently slated to restart on May 27, for now.

“If the goal is just to eradicate the virus then Hong Kong should go back into shutdown mode,” said Thomas, who has edited an academic book series titled “Health Security and Governance.” “But it is about the virus against the backdrop of the economic and social needs of the community and for that reason this one case is unlikely to prevent the restarting of Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong’s been lauded for reacting quickly to the epidemic, which kept its outbreak small despite its proximity to mainland China. Many of its moves made as early as January — almost universal mask-wearing and the closure of schools and offices — have since been adopted globally as the pandemic widened.

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