From: Alice E
Comment: Lifting COVID-19 Lockdown Without Widespread Testing is a Grave Mistake

I don’t buy into conspiracy theories. I like facts, figures, statistics, and the advice of reputable professionals who know what they are talking about. I consider the head of the World Health Organisation to have a pretty good understanding of the COVID-19 situation.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned earlier this month that countries rushing to lift restrictions could result in an “even more severe and prolonged” economic downturn, as well as a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus.

He said that the best way for countries to end their restrictions is to attack the virus. Ways of mitigating the profound economic impact of the pandemic were suggested as expanding social welfare programs, moving financial and bureaucratic barriers, and ensuring public health measures are fully funded.

The WHO has also repeatedly stated that lockdowns are not enough to contain the outbreak. Restrictions on movement need to be done in conjunction with widespread testing, effective tracking of contact with positive cases, and of course, the development of a vaccine.

The Albanian government said it is counting the severity of the Coronavirus pandemic in Albania by how many patients are admitted to hospital. But this is dangerous and irresponsible. Each asymptomatic person can infect countless others, even with social distancing measures in place. If left unchecked, the situation can deteriorate beyond our wildest nightmares quicker than you can say “incubation period”.

By testing just a handful of people every day, we have no idea how far the virus has spread. Figures differ depending on the source but it’s estimated that between 10 and 25 percent of those infected with Coronavirus are asymptomatic. They will never know if they have had the virus and we will have no way of controlling the spread of the disease as they go about their lives.

Of course, some governments will tell you that widespread testing isn’t necessary but this is usually because they want to avoid paying for it, or avoid being criticised when it comes to light that they don’t have the ability to carry such a task out. I believe that the Albanian government’s failure to conduct widespread testing is due to both of these factors.

The testing of citizens is one of the most integral ways of stopping the spread of this virus.

Each morning, the Ministry of Health tells us how much hard work they are doing in tracking down those that have come into contact with infected people. I don’t doubt this, but why are they dragging their heels on using technology to help them out? 

Various countries have developed apps that use Bluetooth and anonymised data to alert people that have come into contact with infected persons. If North Macedonia can do it, I am pretty sure we can. Why not give them a call and ask for help? Or Italy? After all, we did just send them a load of doctors and nurses to help.

I am not an epidemiologist and as such, I have tried to keep my opinions on this matter to a minimum but I feel that the governments rush to get back to normal is irresponsible. We have all been impacted by the lockdown measures and we have witnessed society reach the brink of crumbling. By reopening things too early, we risk all of that being in vain.

Yes, the economy is suffering, people are starving, and thousands are out of work. But what happens when we suffer wave two of the virus, with more cases, more deaths and harsher, longer restrictions needed? The situation will be further exacerbated.

We know that wave two of the pandemic is inevitable. Ghebreyesus said candidly “the worst is yet ahead of us”. Director of the CDC Robert Redfield confirmed this stating that the second wave would be “even more difficult” than the original. 

It is coming and it will come quickly in Albania as the government is sending a dangerous message that everything is ok and life can return to normal.

If you believe the figures released by the government, it seems like Albania has managed to avoid a disaster similar to that of Italy, Spain, the UK, France, or the US. Even if the government is lying about the figures, we are yet to see army trucks transporting corpses and hospital wards overflowing with critically ill people. Do we want to see this become a reality?

I have my concerns about the willingness of Prime Minister Edi Rama to completely derail human rights and freedoms in the name of a state of natural disaster, but I also have my concerns about the impact of this disease on Albania.

We cannot cope with a full-blown epidemic and no amount of government propaganda will change that. 

In my mind, the decision to reopen businesses serves only two benefits. Firstly it means the government doesn’t have to dig into its pockets to provide welfare to Albanian citizens, and secondly, it allows them to perpetuate the lie that they have managed the situation so well, we can all return to almost normal without a care in the world.

Sorry Rama, but without widespread testing, without antibody testing, without proper case tracking, and without a vaccine, all you are doing is putting the lives of your people in danger.