As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the world, various world governments have initiated complete and partial lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Various governments -- Japan being the most recent one -- have also introduced big stimulus packages for their reeling economies amid lockdown. However, the question remains: for how long will lockdowns need to be enforced in countries?
According to a study published in the Lancet Medical Journal, countries which want to end the lockdown will have to monitor very carefully for new infections. They will also have to adjust their control measures until a fool-proof vaccine is ready, states a report by the Guardian.
While China's almost draconian measures have brought the first wave of coronavirus to an end, the threat of a second wave is extremely real.
The researchers, based in Hong Kong analysed the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in four Chinese cities -- Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wenzhou -- between mid-January and the end of February.
The team found that measures such as closing businesses and schools and severely restricting travel successfully reduced the virus' reproduction rate to under 1 -- that is, each infected person infected only one other on average.
This is a significant improvement on the transmissibility rate at the start of the outbreak, roughly 2-3, enough to spread the disease exponentially.
However, their models showed how lifting the measures prematurely would lead to new infections approaching levels seen at the peak of the first outbreak wave.
The researchers also found that COVID-19 cases were deadly in less than 1 percent of cases outside of the Hubei province.
Professor Joseph T Wu said that while the measures reduced infections to very low levels, without herd immunity against the disease, cases could resurge after businesses, factory operations, and schools gradually resumed and increased social mixing.
Wu, a world-renowned expert in infectious diseases, said that developed countries would need to strike a balance between keeping COVID-19 reproduction rates below 1 and allowing the economy to function as best as possible.
The study also looked at the varying COVID-19 mortality rates among the 10 hardest-hit Chinese provinces, and found a strong link between survival rates and economic development.
These ranged from 0 percent mortality in prosperous Jiangsu to 1.76 percent in less developed provinces such as Henan.
"Even in the most prosperous and well-resourced megacities like Beijing and Shanghai, healthcare resources are finite, and services will struggle with a sudden increase in demand," said Gabriel Leung from the University of Hong Kong.
He said that it was important to ensure that local healthcare systems had adequate healthcare systems and resources to minimise deaths due to coronavirus.
Allowing the rate of infections to rise again, he said, would incur both marginally higher infections and economic loss. This will be irrespective of tougher measures put back in place to bring the number of cases down.
He said it was important to strike a balance between allowing economic activities and keeping controls tight enough to prevent a rise in infections.