In many countries, restrictions are easing, but governments are unsure—and unprepared for—what comes next.
Everybody everywhere is looking towards what might be the best exit strategy to return to normality amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent days, heavily hit countries such as Spain and Italy have allowed certain nonessential businesses to re-open and relaxed restrictions on movement, while in the U.S., President Donald Trump has been arguing with state governors over potentially ending the lockdown.
Yet thus far there are no global benchmarks and little international coordination on how to move ahead, and notably, unlike in previous global crises, the U.S. has failed to take a leadership role on the matter.
Nevertheless, evidence of global economic coordination is slowly beginning to emerge, particularly at the regional and local level. The EU is planning a coordinated exit from its travel bans on non-EU residents.
Some U.S. state governors are forming regional groups to discuss the possibility of coordinated reopenings of their economies. The G-20 has proposed to freeze debt repayments for developing countries.
Here is a breakdown of how different regions of the world are currently planning their COVID-19 lockdown exit strategies:
In Europe, countries that ordered lockdowns in March, such as Spain and Germany, are gradually relaxing some of their restrictions. Yet they are doing so regardless of warnings from Brussels that “any relaxation” will “unavoidably lead” to more COVID-19 infections.
That said, the EU has limited political and legal resources to prevent individual nations from moving forward with their plans.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has called for restrictions on cross-border travel within the Schengen Area to remain in place until countries converge in flattening their COVID-19 curves. The current guidelines will apply through May 15 at the earliest.
India has extended what is currently the world’s biggest lockdown, in terms of the population affected, through May 3, amid a growing curve of infections.
“From the economic angle, we have paid a big price,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a nationwide address in mid-April.
“But the lives of the people of India are far more valuable.” Some restrictions on activity by the poorest inhabitants of the country had already been relaxed as of April 20.
Singapore, with its 6 million inhabitants, finally caved in and implemented a strict lockdown in mid-April, closing schools and banning all gatherings—enforceable through jail time—after a resurgence of infections. Japan has also battened down the hatches, with states of emergency declared in major cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka.
Hong Kong has been praised internationally for boasting what may be the most detailed infection data collection in the world, yet it is having difficulty bringing down the total number of active cases, resulting in fresh travel bans and an extended lockdown over the past two weeks.
Wuhan, China, the site of the very first unique coronavirus outbreak, finally reopened a week ago after 76 days under lockdown. Yet cities in other regions of the country, such as Suifenhe on the China-Russia border, continue to see rising infections and remain under lockdown for the foreseeable future.
In the United States, California will reopen gradually based on a series of public health benchmarks, according to Governor Gavin Newsom. New York, the epicenter of the outbreak nationally, is planning a massive testing initiative as a precondition of its reopening.
In one of a series of regional alliances, the state is coordinating with neighbors New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island on how best to execute its strategy.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada’s shutdown of nonessential businesses will remain in place for several weeks and the national economy be reopened in phases.
The U.S. borders with both Mexico and Canada remain closed to nonessential travel.
Argentina’s borders have been closed since March 15. In Brazil, nonresident foreigners remain banned from the country until April 30.
Most African nations banned international flights beginning in mid-March and restricted gatherings before their countries experienced a single COVID-19 death.
Yet these moves haven’t been unanimously popular. South Africa’s lockdown, for example, which was recently extended until the end of April, has been challenged by opposition political parties.
The Middle East
While the majority of Middle Eastern countries have implemented strict social distancing measures, Iran, which has reported the region’s worst outbreak thus far, lifted intraprovince travel restrictions in mid-April.
Iran was hit heavily by the pandemic, yet many countries in the region have reported very low death tolls. The United Arab Emirates, for example, has recorded just 28 deaths among nearly 5,000 cases, while Qatar recorded just seven among 3,428 cases.
According to physicians, this appears to be at least partly down to early actions countries took to limit the spread of the virus, including widespread testing, the closure of schools, nightly curfews, and the mass deportation of immigrant workers.
Israel has locked down key regions of the country, reduced its workforce to 15% of pre-virus levels, and encouraged its citizens to wear masks.