May 6 (UPI) -- Renewed coronavirus-related lockdowns could occur if governments around the world move too quickly in reopening their economies, the World Health Organization warned Wednesday.
As local authorities in hard-hit Europe and the United States pressed ahead with plans to relax strict social distancing requirements, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the plans must be phased in with care to avoid another round of lockdowns.
"The risk of returning to lockdown remains very real if countries do not manage the transition extremely carefully," he said during an update from the agency's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
He urged nations to follow WHO's six criteria for reopening, emphasizing strong surveillance of new cases, contact tracing and sufficient hospital capacity to treat the infected.
Even then, Ghebreyesus warned, countries must work diligently to buttress their national health infrastructures to deal with renewed outbreaks and future pandemics.
"The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually recede, but there can be no going back to business as usual," he said. "We cannot continue to rush to fund panic but let preparedness go by the wayside."
There have been more than 3.7 million cases and 260,000 deaths worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. About 1.2 million patients have recovered.
In Spain, the socialist-led government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday won approval for a 15-day extension of the country's "state of alarm" after a bruising political battle in the Congress of Deputies, the lower house of the national legislature.
It was the fourth extension of the coronavirus-related emergency since Sanchez first imposed it on March 14.
The measure was strongly opposed by the conservative People's Party, whose members abstained during the vote. Party leader Pablo Casada accused Sanchez of taking advantage of the health crisis to set up a "constitutional dictatorship."
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the pandemic is worsening the plight of those with disabilities.
Roughly 1 billion people worldwide who live with disabilities already have limited access to education, healthcare and income opportunities -- and are at heightened risk of violence, neglect and abuse, he said.
Guterres on Wednesday issued a new report recommending an integrated approach aimed at ensuring persons with disabilities aren't forgotten amid response and recovery plans.
"We must guarantee the equal rights of people with disabilities to access healthcare and lifesaving procedures during the pandemic," he said in a video message.
Guterres called on governments to do more for those with disabilities nearly two weeks after he warned the pandemic was "fast becoming a human rights crisis."