A second wave of COVID-19 is swamping Europe with daily numbers of confirmed cases, mainly because of increased testing, exceeding their spring peaks, while death rates are substantially lower.
For a few months this summer it was almost possible for Europeans to believe that life had returned to normal, notes an Economist report. In August and September, as children across the continent returned to school, COVID-19 infections began to rise. Yet governments, worried about a backlash, chose not to reintroduce harsh social-distancing measures.
The report says their decision has had a price. A second wave of COVID-19 is now washing over Europe.
Spain is among the hardest-hit countries. That is partly because its left-wing minority government and the conservative opposition have failed to agree on a national strategy. Madrid is under a 15-day state of emergency.
France is in just as bad a pickle. On October 17th the government imposed a curfew on nine big cities from 9pm to 6am.
Among the hardest-hit countries are Belgium and the Netherlands. “We are really very close to a tsunami. We no longer control what is happening,” warns Frank Vandenbroucke, Belgium’s health minister. The government has closed restaurants and bars and brought in a curfew from midnight until 5am.
In the Netherlands the government dithered while daily cases per million rose steadily. They are now higher than in Spain or France. This month the government at last closed restaurants for four weeks and required masks in public indoor spaces.
In south-eastern Europe and the Balkans, which tamed the virus effectively this spring with harsh lockdowns, there has been little appetite to reintroduce restrictions.
One step the EU did take this month was to settle on a Europe-wide map of regional epidemic severity, after a disagreement over the colours. Almost every province in Europe shows up red (a high rate of the virus). But one can easily discern the outlines of the success stories: Germany, Italy and the Nordics, which are mostly yellow (medium) with patches of green (low). Italy may not stay a success for long. It drove transmission rates down with aggressive lockdowns in the spring, but new cases are rising fast.
Germany and the Nordics remain Europe’s star performers, though there are difficulties. Germany has the continent’s best track-and-trace systems, but Germany’s federal system is causing fragmentation and disagreement.
Italy became the latest European country to announce new restrictions to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, says a Washington Post report. France on Sunday more than 50,000 new infections, a new record for the fourth day running. Germany, widely lauded for its initial handling of the virus, reported a surge of its own. The number of coronavirus cases in Poland has doubled in less than three weeks. And Spain has also imposed new restrictions.
The report says the World Health Organisation reported new daily case records worldwide three days in a row last week, with new infections reaching more than 465,000 on Saturday. Almost half of those cases were in the organisation’s Europe region. The US set a new record Friday with more than 82,000 confirmed new infections.
Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, called trends in both the US and Europe “deeply troubling.” “Unless the US and Europe take decisive action to stop the spread of the virus, we could easily see case numbers that eclipse pre-lockdown levels,” she is quoted in the report as saying. “If case numbers get too large, it may be too difficult to meaningfully slow the virus using measures other than shutdowns.”
Europe appeared to beat back infection rates during the summer. But as economies have reopened and colder weather pushes people indoors, several countries are now reporting case numbers that are eclipsing records set in the spring.
Numbers have soared in the Czech Republic, which in recent days has requested additional ventilators from an emergency European stockpile, closed its borders to tourists and imposed a new lockdown.
The report says the sweeping national rules in several countries suggest a growing belief that initial efforts by European leaders to avoid re-imposing economically punishing lockdowns in favour of regional restrictions focusing on virus hot spots might not be enough.
Ireland became the first European country to go back under national lockdown.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has approved a plan to limit opening hours for bars and restaurants, and shut entertainment, gambling venues and gyms. Italians will also be urged not to travel. Bloomberg reports that the measures will remain in effect until 24 November.
“We must manage the pandemic without being overwhelmed,” Conte said. “If we respect the rules this month, we’ll keep the curve under control and face December and the holiday season with more serenity.”
Conte is preparing a new €5bn ($5.9bn) relief package. The report says that Italy’s government is running out of options to avoid a full lockdown.
Buckling under the resurgence of the coronavirus in Europe, the Spanish government has declared a national state of emergency that includes an overnight curfew in hopes of not repeating the near collapse of the country’s hospitals. CNBC quotes Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez as saying the decision to restrict free movement on the streets of Spain between 11pm and 6am allows exceptions for commuting to work, buying medicine, and caring for elderly and young family members. He said the curfew would likely remain in place for six months.
“The reality is that Europe and Spain are immersed in a second wave of the pandemic,” Sánchez said during a nationwide address after meeting with his Cabinet. “The situation we are living in is extreme.”
The report says the leaders of Spain’s 17 regions and two autonomous cities will have authority to set different hours for the curfew as long as they are stricter, close regional borders to travel, and limit gatherings to six people who don’t live together, the prime minister said.
Authorities want to avoid a second complete shutdown of the country of 47m inhabitants to avoid dealing another heavy blow to an economy that the pandemic has plunged into recession and destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs.
But with the infection rate gaining steam ever since it started rising again in August, health experts have clamoured for action at the national level, arguing that the crisis requires more than a patchwork of regional measures.
The UK government’s scientific advisers are urging the Prime Minister to prepare for a second wave of coronavirus that has a lower daily death toll but which lasts for a longer period of time – making it more deadly overall, the Daily Mail reports.
Now SAGE scientists including chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance are pushing for stricter lockdown rules that apply nationwide and argue that the whole country will have to be put under the strictest restrictions by mid-December.
The report says the forecast being circulated through Whitehall predicts deaths will hit 500 a day and 25,000 people could be in hospital with the virus by the end of November, after the UK’s death toll passed 60,000 yesterday and the country recorded 357 more deaths.
A source is quoted as saying: “It’s going to be worse this time, more deaths. That is the projection that has been put in front of the Prime Minister, and he is now being put under a lot of pressure to lock down again.”
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, has warned the rising death toll from COVID-19 was likely to “continue for some time” because of the spike in cases. It can take infected patients several weeks to fall severely ill, meaning the consequences of Britain’s spiralling outbreak are only just starting to be seen.
But the number of deaths is still a far-cry away from the peak of the pandemic during the spring, when more than 9,400 patients died in the worst week. And to bring the figures into perspective, COVID-19 was only responsible for one in 16 total deaths in the UK in the most recent week, and flu and pneumonia killed twice as many people.
Full Economist report (subscription needed)
Full report in The Washington Post
Full Bloomberg report
Full CNBC report
Full Daily Mail report