A long-awaited passeggiata, in Rome. Photo: Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis via Getty Images

The world now appears to be moving beyond peak lockdown, with at least 12 countries loosening restrictions today.

Why it matters: While regions and countries will likely be forced to reimpose lockdowns as the pandemic develops, we may not again see half of humanity constrained at the same time.

  • Italy, which imposed the first national lockdown eight weeks ago, is now allowing some social interaction. India also began to tentatively loosen the largest lockdown in history.

Flashback: As Europe and much of the world was beginning to clamp down, a vocal minority of experts and politicians made three broad arguments against locking down.

1. The public would not comply for long enough to make lockdowns effective.

  • In March, the scientists who advised the British government against imposing a lockdown predicted that people would get “fed up” and the “effectiveness would wane” unless the harshest restrictions were limited to a relatively short period near the peak of the outbreak.
  • Where things stand: Even in liberal democracies, populations clearly have made major, sustained behavioral changes that have in turn slowed the spread of the virus. In addition, lockdowns have overwhelming approval virtually everywhere they’ve been imposed.
  • However, a corollary claim made by the chief scientific advisers in the U.K. and Sweden — that a pattern of loosening and then tightening lockdowns will erode public trust over time — has not yet been tested.
  • That leads us to argument No. 2.

2. The virus will be with us for some time and locking down will only make renewed outbreaks more dangerous, because there will be less immunity in the population.

  • That logic informed Sweden's plan to shield the vulnerable but otherwise only isolate people once they experience symptoms.
  • On the one hand: Sweden's chief epidemiologist projects that 25% of Stockholm's population currently has antibodies, and "herd immunity" could be achieved there "within weeks."
  • On the other hand: Sweden's death rate is currently far higher than its locked-down neighbors, and we don't know how long immunity from the virus will last.
  • The U.K. also abandoned its similar approach after concluding that its hospitals would be overrun.

3. Closing schools and businesses while forcing people into isolation will ultimately do more damage than the virus itself.

  • This argument from politicians and business leaders seemed to fade in Europe and the U.S. as the scale of the pandemic became clear, though it has returned amid the debate over when and how to reopen.
  • On the one hand: Reducing deaths from the coronavirus clearly benefits society and the economy, neither of which would be functioning normally even without shutdowns.
  • On the other hand: The damage from lockdowns will be lasting, particularly in the developing world. Leaders including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan have warned that preventing deaths from COVID-19 will mean causing deaths from hunger because people need daily earnings to feed their families.

The bottom line: Many leaders who have imposed lockdowns quite reasonably argue that, considering the alternatives, they really had no choice. But while the debate looks different on the other side of peak lockdown, it's a long way from over.

Go deeper

Updated 12 hours ago - Health

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios VisualsThe

The Philippines' economy sunk into recession as its gross domestic product shrank 16.5% in the second quarter — marking the lowest reading since 1981, official figures show.

The big picture: Millions of Filipinos went on lockdown Tuesday as cases surged past 106,300, with stay-at-home orders in place for two weeks in Manila and nearby provinces on the island of Luzon, per the BBC. The economy's contraction is the "deepest" on record, Bloomberg notes.

Fauci: Coronavirus task force to examine aerosolized spread


A sneeze. Photo: Maartje van Caspel/Getty Images

The White House coronavirus task force will examine more closely just how much SARS-CoV-2 might be transmitted via aerosols, and not just from droplets, NIAID director Anthony Fauci said Wednesday at an online forum sponsored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Why it matters: The longer the coronavirus can remain infectious in the air, the more likely it can infect people, particularly indoors — leading to the possible need to alter air filtration and circulation within buildings.

Updated 17 hours ago - Technology

Facebook, Twitter take down Trump post saying kids are immune to coronavirus

Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Facebook removed a video post from President Trump Wednesday in which he claimed in an interview with Fox News that children are "almost immune" to COVID-19.

Why it matters: It’s the first time that Facebook has removed content from Trump's account for violating policies on coronavirus-related misinformation.