The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday welcomed the slowing down of coronavirus, but urged vigilance to keep the hard-won gains that have come at a severe socio-economic cost.

“The good news is that there has been a great deal of success in slowing the virus and ultimately saving lives,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a video press conference from Geneva.

However, he said, this had come at a cost, and the WHO recognized the serious socio-economic impact of the lockdown.

“Therefore, to protect lives and livelihoods, a slow, steady, lifting of lockdowns is key to both stimulating economies, while also keeping a vigilant eye on the virus so that control measures can be quickly implemented if an upswing in cases is identified,” said Tedros.

While observing that there had now been more than 4 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, Tedros said that over the past week, several countries had started lifting stay at home orders and other restrictions in a phased way.

He cited signs of the challenges that may lie ahead in, for example, South Korea, where bars and clubs were shut as a confirmed case led to many contacts being traced.

He also noted that in Wuhan, China the first cluster of cases since lifting its lockdown was identified.

Germany has also reported a rise in COVID-19 transmission rate since an easing of restrictions.

“Fortunately, all three countries have systems in place to detect and respond to a resurgence in cases,” said Tedros.

He said many countries used their lockdown time to ramp up their ability to test, trace, isolate and care for patients “which is the best way to track the virus, slow the spread and take the pressure off the health systems”.

After appearing in Wuhan, China late last year, the virus has spread to at least 187 countries and regions, according to figures compiled by the US’ Johns Hopkins University.

More than 4.14 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, with over 284,000 deaths and more than 1.42 million recoveries.