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Some countries that reopened saw upticks in COVID-19 cases — what can Canada learn?


The goal of reopening countries without sparking new coronavirus outbreaks has proven to be a challenge around the world.

Even as some countries begin to see normal signs of life again, the virus has kicked back, prompting governments to review or reverse reopening plans.

“One thing is clear — when countries have reopened, they haven’t gone back to normal or to the way things were,” said Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a global health professor at York University.

Germany is one example. Just days after the country rolled out its first tentative steps to reopen the economy, it saw a surge in new coronavirus infections.

The German government recently allowed shops, playgrounds, museums and memorial sites to reopen so long as they abide by enhanced hygiene measures. Households can meet with members of one other household and hairdressers can return to work, but limits on social contact are still in place until early June.

But, by Monday, public health authorities reported that the virus reproduction rate had risen above one, indicating that COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, was spreading exponentially.

The new outbreak, coupled with one in South Korea, sounded a global alarm as many other countries begin to wind down economic lockdowns.

It shows just how quickly progress can be reversed, even in a country with one of the best records for containing the pandemic in Europe so far, according to Hoffman.

“There’s no clear recipe on the best way of reopening society because so many of the decisions should be based not only on science but on citizens’ values and preferences,” he said.

South Korea has already seen its own hiccups as rules are relaxed. Officials in Seoul are scrambling to contain a new outbreak linked to nightclubs and bars that reopened as part of eased restrictions.

The news influenced some parts of the country to backtrack on their plans. The country’s education ministry put off restarting high schools in light of the new cases, and nightclubs have been temporarily closed down again.

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