After a Storm Comes a Calm: When the Dark Cloud of COVID-19 Fades
เมื่อสถานการณ์ความรุนแรงของโรคระบาด โควิด-19ในหลายๆประเทศ เริ่มดีขึ้นตามลำดับเนื่องจากการบังคับใช้มาตรการต่างๆ เพื่อชะลอการแพร่เชื้อ อะไรคือขั้นตอนต่อไปในการบริหารประเทศเมื่อวิกฤติการโรคระบาดโควิด-19 เริ่มทุเลาลง ? ถ้ารัฐบาลจะผ่อนปรนมาตรการป้องกันการแพร่ระบาดโควิด-19 จะสามารถผ่อนได้มากน้อยแค่ไหน และเริ่มการผ่อนปรนเมื่อไหร่ โควิด-19ถึงจะไม่กลับมาระบาดอีกครั้ง การวางแผนเพื่อที่จะผ่อนปรนมาตรการนี่เองเป็นสิ่งที่เรียกว่า ‘Exit Strategy’ ซึ่งหลายๆประเทศ รวมถึงประเทศไทยนั้นได้มีการวางแผนกันแล้ว
What to Chew Over Before Implementing an exit strategy in a Country?
The World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that governments from different countries consider 6 key points to ensure COVID-19 will be less likely to come back after the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. The 6 criteria include: 1) Ensuring if the outbreak is really controlled; 2) Countries or cities to have medical and healthcare capacity in preparation for COVID-19 recurrence after easing the measures; 3) Making sure if the virus tends to spread in areas, such as a long-term care, in which the spread is hard to be controlled and will cause severe impacts; 4) Managing risks in places where people have to go such as schools, government offices, and so on; 5) Risk factors for COVID-19 to be evaluated and dealt with by underpinning plans, for example, how likely the spread is to resume and which measure should be enforced after reopening places with higher risk in communal areas; and 6) People in the community willingness to understand and cooperate with the changed measures.
How is an exit strategy important and why should we care?
Although the COVID-19 situations seem to subside, governments of multiple countries cannot reduce their angst and caution. Less alert means an opening for the virus to wallop again any time. An exit strategy is thus essential for a defence against another wave of the COVID-19 outbreak. The precautions that should be continued during the relaxation include social distancing for general people, quarantining a group of people with higher risks for infection, isolating infected patients from society, imposing occupational health and safety measures on workers of different fields, searching for areas of infection and risky areas, and screening and separating infected patients.
If it is a risk to relax the measures to prevent the COVID-19 spread, when should the government reimpose rigid regulations again?
We should accept that the relaxation of COVID-19 measures risks causing another wave of the spread. In many countries where the measures were eased, the infection rate rose up. The government should strengthen the measures if thesis 5 scenarios of COVID-19 infection occur. The first scenario is that the government fails to control or recognise the spread due to ineffective pandemic management. Secondly, it is when the COVID-19 transmission rate is high whereas the city or country’s public care capacity reaches its limit. Thirdly, it is when the virus enters areas in which the spread is hard to be controlled and causes serious impacts such as the COVID-19 recurrence in a nursing care or among vulnerable citizens. The fourth scenario is that the government fails to curb the risks of infection in public areas like schools. Lastly, it is when people lack understanding about the situation and do not cooperate to stop the COVID-19 infection since the prevention highly requires cooperation from people in communities.
The exit strategy is one of the crucial steps in tackling COVID-19 and reducing the chance of its return. Generally speaking, each country has its own unique strategy to ease the lockdown measures due to dissimilar contexts and infection situations. In the next article, key actions to prepare for the relaxation of COVID-19 measures that Thailand should consider will be addressed.
Situation Reporting and Academic Team, the Ministry of Public Health