Weekly new cases of the coronavirus in Europe topped figures reported when the pandemic first peaked in March, the World Health Organization said.
Speaking Thursday, WHO regional director Hans Kluge said 300,000 new infections were reported last week alone.
“We are facing a very serious situation,” he said.
Some European countries, including the UK and France, posted their highest daily results in months.
Testing capacity has increased across Europe since the start of the pandemic, meaning cases are now more likely to be identified and recorded.
But Mr Kluge said the new figures also showed “alarming transmission rates in the region”.
Hospitalizations and deaths have yet to experience a similar rise, although Spain and France are on an upward trend.
While younger people – who are less likely to be severely affected if infected – currently constitute the largest proportion of new coronavirus cases on record, there are many more fears of severe illness if the virus spreads to older and more vulnerable groups.
According to the WHO, there have been five million confirmed cases and more than 228,000 deaths across Europe since the start of the pandemic.
‘Telephone alarm clock’
Mr Kluge told Thursday’s briefing that the lockdown measures introduced in the spring and early summer had produced clear results.
“In June, cases reached an all-time high,” he said. “The September case numbers, however, should serve as a reminder for all of us. “
But he stressed that knowledge about the best ways to contain the virus had improved since the pandemic first spread in Europe.
“We have fought it already and we can fight it again,” he said.
Earlier this week, Mr Kluge warned that Europe should prepare for an increase in the number of coronavirus deaths in October and November, warning: “It’s going to get more difficult.”
What is the situation in Europe?
In the UK, the number of new daily cases reached the highest level since mid-May. New rules have been imposed to limit social gatherings and new local restrictions for parts of north-east England were announced on Thursday.
France, meanwhile, recorded 10,593 cases on Thursday – the highest daily number since the start of the pandemic.
The Minister of Health Olivier Véran acknowledged that the coronavirus “is again very active”; Lyon and Nice, two of the largest cities in France, had until Saturday to propose new measures to fight their epidemics.
Mr. Véran and Prime Minister Jean Castex are among several ministers facing legal proceedings for their management of the crisis.
Other countries see their own peaks:
- Spain Wednesday recorded 239 new coronavirus deaths, the highest number since June. Most of the country’s new infections have occurred in the capital Madrid, where authorities plan to announce new lockdown measures
- the Czech republic reported more than 2,000 daily cases for the first time. The country’s prime minister called on the population to follow the rules to avoid an exponential increase in infections
- Cases also hit a new daily peak in the Netherlands, the government is expected to announce new measures against coronaviruses on Friday