Countries across the continent have eased lockdowns and reopened restaurants, retail stores and offices in a bid to boost their economies. But the easing of restrictions has led to a surge in infections that puts Europe in a vulnerable position.
“The virus did not sleep during the summer, so it did not take a vacation and that is something we are seeing now,” Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Prevention and Control of diseases (ECDC). during a debate organized by the European Union.
She said the increase in reported infection rates was slower than in March, when countries like Italy and Spain were particularly hard hit by Covid-19, but has now been on the rise for decades. weeks.
However, deaths in Europe have gone from a seven-day moving average of around 4,000 in early April to around 300 in early September, according to CNN analysis of figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Ammon said on Wednesday that the resurgence was now also seen among older demographic groups. “In August … we see more than that too [an] the elderly population is affected which indicates that this is really a real increase in transmission, ”she said.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, told CNN that while the first lockdowns had helped slow the rapidly escalating epidemic and bring the number of cases down, “it only pushed back the problem a few months later ”.
“Now we are facing the problem that we had in March, that the virus is out there, it has the potential to cause a major outbreak, just like it did in March; in this regard, we have not made any progress at all, we have quite simply delayed ”, he said.
Woolhouse said it was important to be careful when comparing case numbers because most countries now have much greater testing capacity than in March, but he noted that the proportion of testing returning positives were also starting to increase. “Of all the indicators… this is the one that catches my eye,” he said.
“It comes down to this crucial R number [reproduction number, which indicates the spread of the virus], whether greater or less than one, but at the start of the first wave it was close to three. And I just don’t see him being allowed to come close to that, ”Woolhouse added.
He added that countries now have better surveillance and may have more targeted local lockdowns, but careful monitoring is vital.
“If we try to get back to some form of normalcy, we have very little choice but to take it easy, take it with caution and see what happens… there is a lag two or three weeks. the system. ”
Schools recently reopened in many European countries, but Ammon said there were still “very few major outbreaks in schools that have been documented and the evidence is really conflicting at this time.” [on] whether or not it is useful from a transmission point of view to close schools. ”
France, Germany and Italy have all reported their highest number of new cases in months, and Spain last week hit its 24-hour record for the entire pandemic. Countries like Greece and Croatia, largely untouched by the first wave, saw a rapid increase in the number of cases in August, with tourists taking a summer vacation after Europe’s internal borders reopened in June.
Governments hoping to avoid a second national lockdown have introduced new measures, including nightclub closures, curfews and mandatory masks in public spaces. But the rules have met with mass protests in countries like Germany and the UK.
As the days grow shorter, Europe prepares for the next phase of this ever-changing battle.
CNN’s Ivana Kottasova and Melissa Bell contributed reporting.