According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the number of daily cases in the European Union and the UK this week hit record highs of over 45,000 on a 14-day notification rate, and new restrictions are being imposed in places that were well into reopening. Leaders have raised fears of pressure hospitals could face in the coming months and the looming prospect of further national lockdowns.
The death rate in Europe has been stable for 72 days, according to the ECDC, although Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta, Romania and Spain are seeing increased death rates.
There are trends that can explain the deterioration. The outbreak comes just after the summer vacation season, as workers return to city centers and children return to school. The World Health Organization has suggested the increase may be in part due to easing measures and people letting their guard down, and evidence indicates that young people are behind the second wave in Europe .
Despite the growing number of cases and recent deaths in Europe, the continent still compares favorably to the United States. Europe has reported 4.4 million cases and 217,278 deaths among a population of 750 million, while the United States has reported 6.7 million cases and 198,000 deaths out of a population of 330 million.
The second wave
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters on Friday that the UK “now sees a second wave coming” and that it is “inevitable”, with the daily number of cases surpassing 4,000 for the first time since May.
“Obviously, we are looking very carefully at the spread of the pandemic as it evolves over the past few days,” Johnson said. “There’s no question, like I’ve said for weeks now, that we could (and) see a second wave coming now. We see it in France, in Spain, across Europe. It was absolutely inevitable, we’ll see. in this country.
“I don’t want to go into the second national lockdown. The only way to do it is for people to follow the guidelines. ”
The UK has the highest death toll in Europe at over 40,000 and new restrictions on social gatherings were imposed across England this week.
Johnson faces a growing backlash even from his usual cheerleaders in the UK right-wing press, the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator questioning the government’s game plan and Times of London columnist Matthew Parris writing that “Johnson’s outburst is gone”.
Their damning words come amid widespread criticism of the collapsing UK test and traceability system, which even the Prime Minister admits to having “huge problems”.
New restrictions were also announced on Friday in Madrid, which accounts for around a third of all new cases in Spain, according to Spain’s health ministry. The country reported a record 12,183 daily cases on September 11 and has the highest number of cases in Europe with more than 600,000, with more than 30,000 deaths.
France recorded 13,215 new cases of Covid-19 in 24 hours on Friday, according to data released by its National Health Agency, its highest count since April. The figures also show an upward trend in hospital admissions with 3,626 new patients in the previous seven days. In a major French city, CNN reported this week that hospitals were on the verge of running out of intensive care beds.
The Czech Republic reported a record 3,130 infections per day on Friday, with masks being mandatory in schools again, and the Netherlands reported a record 1,977 cases. Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a press conference that the number of daily infections in the country was doubling in just over a week. “With an R of 1.4, that number will increase in three weeks to over 10,000 per day,” he said.
“You don’t have to be a mathematician or a virologist to understand that these kinds of numbers will inevitably work in hospitals,” he warned.
Restaurants, cafes and bars in six Dutch regions will face new restrictions from Sunday.
Italy on Friday recorded its highest tally since May with 1,907 daily cases; Poland recorded a record 1,002 daily cases on Saturday.
Where it went wrong
WHO Europe Director Hans Kluge this week warned of “alarming transmission rates” and a “very serious situation” in the region, adding that weekly cases have exceeded those reported during the peak in March .
Although there has been an increase in cases in older age groups – those aged 50 to 79 – during the first week of September, Kluge said, the largest proportion of new cases is still among 25 to 49 year olds.
In late August, Kluge said that the gradual increase in cases in Europe could be explained in part by “the relaxation of public health and social measures, where authorities have relaxed some of the restrictions and people have lowered their guard.” .
He said he was “very concerned that more and more young people are counted among the reported cases”, advising against large gatherings and parties.
In several countries, cases are increasing particularly rapidly in densely populated cities, where people are returning to offices, schools and public places after measures relaxed after the spring peak.
Like Spain, Austria had its biggest peak in its capital. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Austria’s national news agency APA last Sunday that the situation was “particularly dire” in Vienna, which has more than half of all new infections recorded.
“We are at the start of the second wave. We are going through difficult months in the fall and winter. The number of infections is increasing day by day, ”he said in a tweet, asking Austrians to reduce social contact as the requirement to wear face masks was extended to more public places.
Turkey recorded 63 deaths in 24 hours this week, its highest number of deaths in a day. Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said during his weekly coronavirus press briefing on September 2 that the country was “in the second peak of the first wave”.
“We are on that threshold today due to the movement around the holiday season and weddings which are an integral part of our traditions. ”
Italian authorities said at the end of August that around 50% of new infections were acquired during the summer holidays, across the country and abroad, mostly among young adults who have not not be careful with social distancing and mask wearing guidelines.
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.
But Europe can take comfort in the experience. Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, told CNN earlier this month that the initial lockdown “was never, ever going to fix the problem for us in Europe or elsewhere; he simply postponed it ”.
While cases are on the rise, this can in part be attributed to increased levels of testing, and daily deaths in Europe fell from 3,788 on April 18 to 504 on September 18 on a seven-day moving average, according to CNN analysis. figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Seb Shukla, Laura Perez Maestro, Ingrid Formanek, Eva Tapiero, Mick Krever, Valentina di Donato, Vasco Cotovio, Tomas Etzler, Nadine Schmidt, Isil Sariyuce and Melissa Bell contributed to this report.