Still, the next six months are crucial to ensuring we can open up our societies and economies, while also driving Covid-19 infections to very low numbers and keeping them there. The current priority for many governments is less about how the pandemic ends globally and more about how they continue managing this crisis domestically. But if we want to see an end to this crisis, we must reframe this thinking.
In 2020, many low- and middle-income countries recognized the limits of their healthcare systems and pro-actively worked to suppress transmission using traditional public health measures such as testing and tracing, border controls, public handwashing facilities, bans on mass gathering and good guidance on public health hygiene.
Reintegrating people into society too early could trigger another wave of cases in younger people under 50, and this would inevitably hit those from deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds the hardest.
But this also doesn’t mean the world must stay in lockdown forever. It is a careful balance of opening up cautiously while keeping covid case numbers low. These are the key factors to be mindful of if we want to reach an end to the pandemic while reopening our communities across the world.
Opening public spaces
The well-being of children is a priority, and with it, the reopening of in-person schooling worldwide. Organized, group, outdoor activities and hospitality can then follow, before finally moving to more mixing indoors.
Viral genomic sequencing
As vaccinations proceed and more selection pressure is exerted on the virus, the other critical component of a longer-term response is comprehensive genomic surveillance.
Given the rise of SARS-CoV-2 variants such as B.1.1.7, genomic sequencing is vital to quickly identify new variants and track their impact on transmissibility, health outcomes and vaccine effectiveness. It can also ensure that testing mechanisms can adapt through the development of variant-specific testing and inform future vaccine programs.
While it is understandable that countries continue to manage the current crisis and attempt to limit the impact on their own populations, we need to recognize global interconnectivity and improve global health security.
This approach is vital, as we are already seeing the risks posed by new variants, such as those that originated in South Africa and Brazil, if uncontrolled transmission takes place. Concern about how this pandemic is affecting other parts of the world is essential — both morally and pragmatically.
The future of the pandemic is unclear, but what is clear is that we must both apply the major scientific advances and extend the warm embrace of cooperation to ensure that we leave no parts of the world behind.