China is testing restaurant workers and delivery drivers block by block. South Korea tells people to carry two types of masks for differing social situations. Germany requires communities to crack down when the number of infections hits certain thresholds.
Around the world, governments that appeared to have tamed the virus are adjusting to the reality that the disease is here to stay. But in a shift away from nationwide lockdowns that damage the economy, they are looking for targeted ways to find and stop outbreaks before they become third or fourth waves.
While the details differ, the strategies call for flexibility or for tightening or easing regulations as needed. They require some mix of intensive testing and monitoring, lightning-fast response times by the authorities, tight border management and constant reminders to their citizens of the dangers of frequent human contact.
The strategies often force central governments and local officials to share data and to work closely together, overcoming incompatible computer systems, turf battles and other longstanding bureaucratic rivalries. Already, in Britain, some local officials say their efforts are not coordinated enough.
The shifting strategies are an acknowledgment that even the most successful countries cannot declare victory until a vaccine is found. They also show the challenge facing countries like the United States, Brazil and India, where the authorities never fully contained initial outbreaks and from where the coronavirus will continue to threaten to spread.
“It’s always going to be with us,” said Dr. Simon James Thornley, an epidemiologist from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “I don’t think we can eliminate the virus long term. We are going to need to learn to live with the virus.”
Even in places where the coronavirus appeared to be under control, big outbreaks remain a major risk. In Tokyo, there have been 253 new infections in the past week, 83 from a nightlife district. In Gütersloh, in western Germany, more than 1,500 workers from a meat processing plant tested positive, prompting the authorities to shut down the district. South Korea has announced dozens of new infections in recent days.