The virus at the “turning point” in Europe, hitting risk groups

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MILAN (AP) – Doctors warn Europe is at a crossroads as the coronavirus reappears across the continent, including among vulnerable people, and governments are trying to impose restrictions without locking down entire economies.

With recently confirmed cases reaching record highs, the Czech Republic has closed schools and built a field hospital, Poland has limited restaurant hours and closed gyms and schools, and France is planning a 9 p.m. curfew. in Paris and other major cities. In Britain, authorities are closing pubs and bars in areas in the north of the country, while placing limits on socialization in London and other parts of the country.

“This is a serious situation that should not be underestimated. It’s serious at European level, ”Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Friday.

Europe is not the only one to see a resurgence. In the United States, new cases per day are increasing in 44 states and deaths per day are increasing in 30.

“If we don’t get this under control, we run the risk of finding ourselves in a situation that is more difficult to control,” Bertrand Levrat, head of Switzerland’s largest hospital complex, told The Associated Press. “We’re really at a crossroads – things can go either way.”

But as officials sound the alarm bells about the rise in cases, they also fear imposing the tighter nationwide lockdowns that have devastated their economies this spring. Instead, they’re trying more targeted restrictions.

France is deploying 12,000 additional police officers to enforce its new curfew; Saturday evening will be the first time that establishments will be forced to close at 9 p.m. Restaurants, cinemas and theaters are trying to figure out how to survive forced early closures.

Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot told Le Parisien that she was negotiating exceptions to a one-month curfew in the Paris region and eight other metropolitan areas.

A cinema chain will start opening at 8 a.m. in the hope of making up for the evening’s losses. Since Parisian restaurants usually open at 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. for dinner, some might close altogether because it no longer makes financial sense to stay open for such a short shift.

“The French cultural world is not invincible, it needs help,” author and filmmaker Yoann Sfar said on Friday, who is releasing a new film on RTL.

Italy, the first country outside Asia to detect local transmission of the virus, has banned pickup sports and public gatherings after health officials said the resurgence reached “an acute phase” after a period of relative grace following its particularly strict lockdown. Speranza, the health minister, told reporters that any new measure in Italy, including a curfew, must be “well thought out”.

Massimo Galli, director of infectious diseases at Luigi Sacco Hospital in Milan, said Italy’s outbreak – which reached pandemic highs in new daily infections this week – is not the result of record tests, such as the political decision-makers suggested it, but the sign of a real return. among the population most at risk of developing serious disease if infected.

This is a worrying trend as a tide of severe cases has the potential to overwhelm hospitals, and it is a trend that can be seen in other countries on the continent, as many see numbers even higher than Italy. .

France, Spain and Britain have recorded more than 300 infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the past two weeks, compared to Italy’s accelerated but relatively small increase 106.

The Czech Republic has reported more than 700 infected per 100,000, and the country’s military will start building a field hospital at the Prague exhibition grounds this weekend – a reminder of the dark days of spring when many countries put in place makeshift facilities to ease pressure centers. The government is also negotiating with neighboring Germany and some other countries to have Czechs treated there if the health system cannot handle them.

In Italy, Milan is the epicenter of the resurgence, and it too sees its hospitals under strain. Sacco’s COVID-19 neighborhood was the first in the city to start filling up.

“We have a situation that reminds us quite painfully of what we have already experienced,” Galli told The Associated Press, referring to the peak in March and April when Italy hit its record 969 deaths in a row. day. The country recorded 83 deaths on Thursday – twice the previous days, but far from previous levels.

Already in Milan, Galli said the number of elderly patients or patients with other risk factors was increasing, indicating that the virus had passed its initial expansion by the end of September, when most cases were mild or asymptomatic detected by screening and testing. contact tracing.

Since then, the mix between families, within businesses and among students outside of school has fueled the spread to more vulnerable people, he said, renewing pressure on hospitals in Milan.

“The trend is already there, and it’s frankly alarming,” he said, noting that all of Italy was not yet experiencing a surge.

But that, he says, may only be a matter of time. Galli said Italy will “follow in the footsteps” of its European neighbors unless the transmission chain is blocked within the next two weeks.

Galli is concerned that new national restrictions enacted in the past two weeks – including mandatory masks outdoors, a ban on pickup sports matches with friends and the closing of restaurants at midnight – may not be enough. He called for more restrictions on public transport and leisure activities if authorities are to avoid another lockdown – bad for both the economy and the social fabric.

While Italy’s lockdown in the spring has given it more time, Galli said the current resurgence shows “how quickly there is a risk of wasting the results of even a very decisive and very important intervention. “

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Charlton reported from Paris.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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