Great Britain

Coronavirus surging throughout Europe at ‘surprising ferocity,’ says WHO

The situation on the continent has worsened throughout October. A string of countries have reported record increases, led by France, which posted more than 50,000 daily cases for the first time on Sunday, while daily deaths have risen by nearly 40 per cent compared to last week.

Both France and Germany have imposed partial national lockdowns in an attempt to curb the rate of transmission, while Spain earlier this week declared a national state of emergency and introduced a night-time curfew.

WHO special envoy professor David Nabarro, who is also co-director of Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation, said the spread of the virus was intensifying throughout much of Europe.

"This virus has been picking up extraordinary energy over the last three or four weeks and it is indeed surprising just how ferocious the current surges have become, and also how widespread they are,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

“When we had it in spring this year, it came in stages. You had Italy, then Spain, then France, then the UK and other countries coming along the sequence. Whereas now it seems the surges are happening simultaneously across the continent and this is surprising and of course disturbing.

“This virus is surging back fiercely, and that's why the stronger nationwide restrictions are beginning to be adopted across quite a lot of western Europe.”

Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told The Independent that the continent’s second wave could be linked to the uptick in travel and tourism that was recorded over the summer.

“Most of the analyses traces this back to the European population going on holiday in August, and both taking the disease to countries that had been relatively unscathed and mixing together, and bringing it back to countries that had done quiet well, like Germany and Austria," he said.

“Greece actively encouraged tourism but unfortunately is paying for the price for it now.” Greek authorities recorded a record 1,547 cases on Wednesday - the second consecutive day that infections passed the 1,000 mark.

Prof McKee insisted that not all countries in Europe were facing a rise in cases, pointing to the example of the Scandinavian nations, excluding Sweden, as well as Estonia and Latvia.

Elsewhere on the continent, Belgian authorities have recorded an 88 per cent rise in hospital admissions, with officials warning that half of intensive care beds are already filled.

And in Russia, five regions are at 95 per cent of their hospital bed capacity, as the government confirmed that a record 366 people had died from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours. The country’s caseload stands at 1,581,693, making it the fourth worst-affected nation behind the US, India and Brazil.

Although Germany has yet to reach the same stage as its neighbours - the country has a weekly infection rate of 18.4 cases per 100,000, compared to to France’s 120.3 - chancellor Angela Merkel explained that the nation “could reach the limits” of its health service within weeks.

She said the number of people in intensive care beds had doubled in the last 10 days alone, as she announced the closure of pubs, bars, gyms and cinemas and unveiled new rules for indoor gatherings.

Germany’s much-lauded test and trace system is close to being overwhelmed, officials say

Prof Nabarro said that the fact Germany’s “excellent” test and trace system was close to being overwhelmed had also influenced the decision to act pre-emptively in enforcing a partial lockdown.

“Track and trace is key to maintaining as much defence against this virus as possible and to trying to stop it from surging up,” he said. “Track and trace can get overwhelmed when the level of virus transmission really gets very high.

“Germany, which has an excellent track and trace system, is finding itself overwhelmed in some areas. Ms Merkel has a very clear grasp of how much capacity there is in the German track and trace system. She has decided on advise, and also on the basis of the numbers and information received, that things have got too stretched.

“That's why stronger restrictions had to be imposed.”

He insisted that European governments need to focus on establishing a “strong” and “robust” test, trace and isolate system to stand any chance of controlling the virus. “That still has to be the key direction,” he said.

Prof Nabarro added that lockdowns should not be the “primary means of containment”. Instead, he explained, such an approach should be reserved for “taking the heat out the system when it’s really bad”.

It remains unclear how much longer western Europe’s second wave will continue to grow, Prof McKee said, though he said research from America has suggested that the peak could be reached in either November or December for a number of countries.

“Essentially Covid is now a political problem, he added. “We do know what to do, but the differences [in handling] are almost entirely political.”

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