Tourists wearing a surgical face mask walk by the Trevi fountain in downtown Rome on August 19, 2020.
VINCENZO PINTO | AFP | Getty Images
LONDON — A dramatic rise in new coronavirus cases in Europe has been characterized as a “wake up call” by the World Health Organisation’s top official in Europe.
“We have a very serious situation unfolding before us,” WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said Thursday in a press briefing on the epidemiological situation in the region. “Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March.”
He said that, last week, the region’s weekly tally exceeded 300,000 patients.
“More than half of European countries have reported a greater-than-10% increase in cases in the past two weeks. Of those, seven countries have seen newly reported cases increase more than two-fold in the same period,” he added.
While lockdown measures imposed in the spring and early summer pushed the number of new cases in June to an all-time low, the number of cases in September “should serve as a wake-up call for all of us,” he warned.
There have been growing concerns in Europe for a number of weeks at what is being seen as an alarming rise in coronavirus cases, with the number of new daily infections reaching record highs in some countries.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned Wednesday that the 14-day case notification rate (the number of newly reported cases) for the EU, European Economic Area and the U.K. “has been increasing for more than 50 days, with over half of all EU countries currently experiencing an increase in cases.”
Spain, which has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Europe at 614,360, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University (JHU), is reportedly set to announce targeted lockdowns in places where the virus is spreading rapidly, and renewed restrictions of movement on Friday.
Meanwhile in France, the number of new daily cases reported Wednesday (9,784) was among the highest ever reported in the country. It was just below an all-time record of 10,561 new cases recorded on Saturday. The number of people being treated in intensive care units for Covid-19 also rose for the 20th straight day Wednesday, Reuters reported, to a three-month high of 803. The total number of cases in France stands at 404,888, according to the French Health Ministry.
Remarking on the rise in cases, French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday that the virus was circulating “quicker and quicker in certain parts of the country,” Reuters reported.
The U.K., which has the third-highest number of cases in Europe, at 380,677 according to JHU data, has seen an alarming rise in cases across various parts of northern England in recent weeks. It has started to reintroduce measures to restrict social gatherings, with the number of people allowed to meet now limited to six in England. Stricter measures targeting north-east England could be announced Thursday, the BBC reported.
Italy, which was the epicenter of Europe’s first coronavirus outbreak in February but now has the fourth-highest number of reported infections, at 291,442 to date, has also seen cases rise. The health ministry said Wednesday that Italy has registered 1,452 new cases in the last 24 hours, up from 1,229 new cases on Tuesday, although this was partly attributed to a sharp increase in coronavirus tests, news agency ANSA reported. Nonetheless, the health ministry noted that Italy is seeing the highest number of active cases since June, with 40,532 people currently infected with the coronavirus.
Germany, which was seen as a poster-child for its handling of the first wave of the coronavirus cases, having managed to keep its death toll low compared to its number of cases, has seen a slight rise in cases.
The Robert Koch Institute, which monitors the epidemic in Germany, said Wednesday that “the increase in the number of cases reported since mid-July had stabilized at a slightly higher level in calendar weeks 35 (beginning August 24) and 36, but since calendar week 37, a slight increase can be observed again.” It added that more young people have become infected in recent weeks.
So far, the death toll from rising infections has been significantly lower than in spring and early summer when the virus first hit Europe, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that this could change as winter approaches.
‘The pandemic is not over’
The increases in the number of reported infections has, in part, been attributed to more sophisticated and active testing regimes in Europe, but the ECDC said Wednesday that “although increased testing contributes to better awareness of all ongoing transmission, it is not the only reason for the increase of Covid-19 cases.” It linked the rise to the relaxation of physical distancing and other preventive measures.
“As schools reopen and more indoor activities are held, the increase of cases comes as a reminder that the pandemic is not over,” the ECDC warned, as it reminded the public to continue basic measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including hand washing, face masks and self-isolation when feeling ill.
There are concerns that healthcare systems could be overwhelmed as winter nears and the ECDC noted that, as flu season approaches, the preparedness of healthcare systems across Europe is “vital.”
“This includes essential services, primary care facilities and hospitals ensuring appropriate surge capacity plans in case of a high demand for the care of patients with respiratory distress,” it said.