Everyone knows the feeling. It’s day six of a two-week course of antibiotics, and you’re feeling much better. You’re ready for a return to normality, to being able to drink alcohol and eat what you want without worry, to not stressing about taking your pills at the right time.
Of course, as most people (hopefully) know, stopping antibiotics at this point is the worst possible move, risking a return of the infection or enabling the bug to develop resistance to medicine, potentially putting more people at risk down the line. And yet many people still do it, because it’s hard, when things feel like they’re going back to normal, to continue to follow medical precautions, particularly ones that effect our day-to-day lives.
A similar dynamic is developing with the novel coronavirus. Even as new outbreaks are reported around the world and we edge towards pandemic levels, the situation is stabilizing in some areas where infections were first detected and people are starting to return to normality.
In China particularly, there has been a major drop in the number of new cases reported in the past week, particularly outside of Hubei, the province where the outbreak began. This has led some areas to lower travel restrictions and begin the slow process of getting back to work.
Liaoning, a province in northeastern China that borders North Korea, was the first to downgrade the coronavirus emergency response level from the highest level – Level 1 – to Level 3 on Saturday, according to a statement by the provincial government. This was followed by Shanxi, Guangdong, Yunnan, Gansu and Guizhou, accounting for some 305 million people.
In Hong Kong too, where actions taken by the semi-autonomous Chinese city appear to have avoided an outbreak on the scale of the 2003 SARS crisis, there is a sense of very gradual relaxation. Although two people have died from the virus and the number of confirmed cases continues to rise – it is now more than 90 – an increasing number of the city’s residents are beginning to slowly venture back out and about again. Some are even dispensing with face masks, previously a rare sight.
The relative success of Hong Kong in preventing the type of fast expanding mass outbreaks seen first in mainland China and now South Korea and other countries is likely due to the effectiveness of precautions, including closing schools and having large numbers of residents work at home to increase social distancing.
But as time goes on, and as cabin fever grows, it’s only natural for people to feel like it’s maybe time to go back to the office – despite the potential risk. On Wednesday, the Hong Kong government announced a major economic relief package, boosting, perhaps unintentionally, the sense that the worst may have passed.