Alarm across Europe over surge in coronavirus cases

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A sharp rise in the number of coronavirus infections over the past two weeks has put European governments on high alert as holidaymakers return home to major cities and teachers and students prepare for back to school after months of disruption.

But leaders are eager to avoid reimposing drastic controls on freedom of movement, as they want to allow economies to recover from the deepest recession since World War II. France has chosen to control the spread of the virus rather than attempt to eliminate it completely, and French President Emmanuel Macron has said there is no “zero risk” society.

Before the latest upsurge, strict national lockdowns in the spring sharply reduced the spread of Covid-19 in Europe. But in Spain, in particular, the virus is returning quickly, with 8,000 new infections reported on Friday alone.

According to the latest figures from the EU’s European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Spain recorded 153 cases per 100,000 in the previous 14 days – compared to 121 for Malta, 96 for Luxembourg, 87 for Romania, 60 for France, 56 for Belgium, 22 for the United Kingdom and 20 for Germany.

Spain is not alone. Germany recorded its highest daily infection rate since April on Saturday, with 2,034 new cases.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s leading public health authority, said the cumulative incidence of Covid-19 over the past seven days had sharply increased in all 16 regions of Germany, a trajectory it has described as “alarming”. He blamed the outbreak on family reunions and parties, as well as young people returning from vacation.

Two women are sitting in front of a bar in Pamplona. There were 8,000 new infections in Spain on Friday © Alvaro Barrientos / AP

France also reported a rapid increase in the number of people testing positive, announcing more than 4,000 new cases on Thursday and Friday, the highest daily total since the country’s lockdown eased in mid-May.

Most of those infected are young adults who tend not to suffer from severe symptoms, according to French health authorities, which is part of the reason why the number of people in hospital or in need of intensive care has not yet increased significantly. substantial.

However, Olivier Véran, French Minister of Health, said in an interview published on Sunday that infections were already spreading between age groups and increasing among the elderly in the Marseille region. “We must avoid this situation at all costs,” he said. “It would put our health care system under pressure and be extremely problematic.”

In Italy, new daily cases also rose, reaching 947 on Friday, due to increased travel and nightlife during the summer holidays.

An Italian policeman patrols the Spanish Steps in Rome to make sure people wear face masks

An Italian policeman patrols the Spanish Steps in Rome to make sure people wear face masks © Alberto Pizzoli / AFP / Getty

Even Greece, which has averted the worst of the pandemic so far, reported a record 269 infections on Thursday, as young Greeks returned from vacations in the Aegean islands with their crowded beach bars and their private parties.

The death rate in Spain is already increasing, making the current spike in infection rates particularly alarming given the delay of several weeks between contracting the virus and death in many cases.

“If we let the transmission continue to increase. . . we are going to end up with many people hospitalized, many people in intensive care and many deaths, ”said Fernando Simón, the doctor leading the Spanish government’s battle against the virus on Thursday. “We know that every young person can infect family members and eventually creates cases involving older people.”

However, some experts are calling for calm, arguing that there is little risk of reaching the mortality peaks of hundreds of deaths per day that several European countries experienced in March and April.

Martin Blachier, epidemiologist at Public Health Expertise in Paris, said his consulting firm estimates that there are currently around 20,000 new infections per day in France (including the thousands confirmed by tests), up from 400,000 per day at most height of the pandemic.

Increased regulations on wearing masks – like this week’s order from the French government that students wear them in classrooms – would help control the spread of infection, he said.

Olivier Boché, doctor at Foch hospital west of Paris, said on Friday that there had been no Covid-19 patients in intensive care at his hospital recently, up from around 60 at the top, but said that the government was understandably worried about the public reaction. the increase in the number of infections.

“The government is worried that the virus will come back because the handling of the crisis at the beginning was so bad,” he said. “All measures [now] are very restrictive and everyone wants to protect themselves both politically and from a health point of view.

Belgium has become a rare example of a European country that seemed to be in control of the latest upsurge. Sophie Wilmès, the prime minister, said the situation “is stabilizing and improving” after outbreaks in several parts of the country triggered further tightening of restrictions.

In the UK, coronavirus infections remain fairly stable across the country, according to official estimates. Partial lockdowns have been imposed locally in places where cases are increasing rapidly, particularly in the north of England.

“I think we’re on a slight uptrend nationwide, but outside of infection hot spots it’s probably flat,” a senior government scientist said.

German Red Cross medical staff test visitors for coronavirus at Hauptbahnhof station in Berlin

German Red Cross medical staff test visitors for coronavirus at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof station © Filip Singer / EPA / Shutterstock

Others are less optimistic. Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, told reporters last week after the number of daily cases in Germany doubled in three weeks: “This development cannot be allowed to continue, we must contain it. She ruled out any further easing of current restrictions on public life.

Mr Macron took an equally cautious point of view, but made it clear that any new lockdown in France is likely to be local rather than national.

“We have very localized strategies, as we did in Mayenne, with in particular a targeted reclassification which could be imposed if the situation required it”, he declared in an interview with Paris Match. “But you cannot shut down the country because the collateral damage of a foreclosure is considerable. ”

Ireland tightened restrictions for the second time in a fortnight last week amid the spike in infections, as the government prepared to reopen schools closed since March.

“We are now acting in a very targeted manner, essentially to avoid a full national lockdown in the times to come,” said Stephen Donnelly, Minister of Health. “We are asking the Irish to do very serious things all over our country.”

Victor Mallet in Paris, Guy Chazan in Berlin, Daniel Dombey in Madrid, Kerin Hope in Athens, Michael Peel in Brussels, Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli in Milan, Arthur Beesley in Dublin and Clive Cookson in London

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