People enjoy the sunshine on Margate beach in Margate, United Kingdom, June 2020
Andrew Couldridge / Reuters

For the last few months, much of the world has lived under unprecedented public health restrictions, social-distancing mandates, and other emergency measures. At least 137 countries imposed partial or total lockdowns to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. One hundred forty-one restricted internal travel, and 169 closed at least some of their schools. In many ways, these measures have had their intended effect, helping to reduce transmission and ease the strain on health-care systems. Although more than eight million people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and over 400,000 have died, these numbers would likely be far higher had countries not acted as they did.

But much of the world has now begun the process of reopening, even though the spread of the disease continues to accelerate in many places. The United States recorded its largest one-day total of new infections this week, even as many states push ahead with plans to reopen their economies.

This new phase of pandemic response is risky, but it may have been inevitable. Tight restrictions on people’s lives cannot be maintained forever. Their purpose was to “flatten the curve”—that is, to avoid a crush of sick patients that would

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  • JOSH MICHAUD is Associate Director for Global Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation and an Adjunct Lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
  • JEN KATES is Senior Vice President and Director of Global Health & HIV Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation and an Adjunct Lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies
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