Europe is bracing for a second wave of coronavirus as continuing outbreaks raise the prospect of reimposed restrictions at a time when millions of people are travelling across the continent for their summer holidays.
The Belgian government has warned that country could be put into a second “complete lockdown” following a significant spike in infections, while the Spanish region ofCatalonia may also have to reintroduce lockdown measures if outbreaks are not brought under control within 10 days.
In France, the health minister has called for greater vigilance after a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in young people, and Germany’s public health advisory body has said it is “deeply concerned” about the rise in cases over the past few weeks.
On Monday, Belgium’s prime minister, Sophie Wilmès, announced a series of further restrictive measures but said a second lockdown may be inevitable.
“If we cannot reduce the coronavirus, it will be a collective failure,” Wilmès said at a press conference following a meeting of the country’s national security council.
“Experts say it is possible to avoid another lockdown. But it must be remembered that the world’s leading scientists are incapable of knowing how the situation will develop. We must not frighten people, but neither should we abuse them by pretending to know everything.”
There was a 71% increase in the seven-day average number of infections in Belgium between 17 July and 23 July in Belgium, up from 163 new cases a day to 279. At the height of the pandemic in April, Belgium had more than 1,000 cases a day.
The prime minister said the start of the school year could be undermined without a drastic intervention and said she “very strongly recommended” the return of home working for those who are able to do so. For four weeks from Wednesday, each household may only have social contact with a further five people.
People must go shopping alone and they will need to restrict themselves to 30 minutes in a shop.
Group outings will be limited to 10 people, except for children of 12 and older. The city of Antwerp will also take extra measures in an attempt to reduce the spread of the disease following a 500% week-on-week rise in infections.
On Monday, the regional president of Catalonia – one of the areas of Spain hardest hit by the virus’s resurgence – said the situation was similar to that before the national lockdown was introduced in March.
“We’re in the 10 most important days of the summer and during that time, we’ll see whether we’re capable of sorting out the situation through solidarity, cooperation and a collective effort,” said Quim Torra.
“But the situation is critical and if we don’t manage to, then we will have to go backwards.”
Nearly 8,000 cases have been diagnosed in Catalonia over the past 14 days – accounting for almost half of the 16,410 detected across Spain. In the neighbouring region of Aragón, where there has also been a rise in infections, 738 new cases were recorded on Friday and Saturday.
Many outbreaks have originated in bars and clubs, but other clusters have been traced to seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers, whose poor living and working conditions often make social distancing difficult.
Last week, Spanish health authorities acknowledged the country may already be experiencing a second wave of infections following the lifting of the strict, three-month lockdown at the end of June.
On Monday, the Spanish health ministry reported 855 new Covid cases over the past 24 hours – 474 of them in Aragón – down from 922 last Friday and 971 the day before that.
Figures showed 6,361 cases were recorded over the weekend, bringing Spain’s cumulative total to 278,782.
When the pandemic was at its peak on 31 March, Spain had 9,222 new infections in a single day. According to the ministry, six people have died from the coronavirus in Spain over the past seven days.
The Catalan government has ordered all nightclubs to close for a fortnight and placed a midnight curfew on bars in and around Barcelona and Lleida, both of which have reported a rise in the number of new cases. It has also advised people in Barcelona to stay at home, but the advice has been ignored as many people flock to beaches.
Faced with the closures and curfews, some young people have taken to holding botellones, or drinking parties, in the streets. Torra called for an end to such behaviour, saying: “Today, a botellón isn’t a party; it shows a lack of solidarity.”
The message was echoed by the French health minister, who urged youngsters to be vigilant and maintain coronavirus safety measures including keeping their distance, washing hands and wearing masks.
“When we carry out mass testing we are seeing a lot of young patients … more youngsters than during the previous wave,” Olivier Véran said at the weekend.
“This is particularly the case in the Île-de-France [Paris] region where we are seeing young people who are infected without knowing how it happened. Clearly, older people are still being very careful, while young people are paying less attention.”
Jérôme Marty, the president of a French GPs’ union, said the summer holidays would be a crucial point in the coronavirus crisis. “There’s everything at risk in the next three weeks because we’re entering the dangerous period,” he told Europe 1 radio.
“This is the time when there’s the most movement and concentration of population. There are areas where there are normally 10,000 inhabitants and suddenly there are 60,000 or 80,000. From one day to the next it can tip to a corresponding rise in the number of hospital admissions.”
Fear is growing in Germany of a second coronavirus wave, with some experts saying the country is on the cusp of it, others saying it has already begun, and some referring to a “permanent wave” that will last until a vaccine arrives.
Outbreaks in urban areas and among holidaymakers and abattoir and harvest workers have demonstrated how quickly the virus can flare up, placing whole regions at risk of being put under lockdown conditions once again.
The country’s public health advisory body, the Robert Koch Institute, has said it is “deeply concerned” about the rise in cases over recent weeks. The new number of new cases climbed past 800 on Friday after several weeks of hovering between 300 and 400. At the pandemic’s height, Germany saw over 6,000 cases a day.
The health minister, Jens Spahn, has warned that partying holidaymakers on Mallorca or Ibiza are in danger of forgetting rules such as physical distancing and hand-washing, contributing to the threat of a second wave. Heannounced he is planning to introduce obligatory testing for travellers returning from areas considered high risk because of their level of coronavirus cases.
Michael Kretschmar, the leader of the eastern state of Saxony, has said he believes “the second coronavirus wave is already there”, telling the Rheinischen Post: “On a daily basis we’re dealing with new infection herds which can quickly produce very high numbers.”
But Gerd Antes, a medical statistician in the southern city of Freiburg, said the concept of the “second wave” created a false impression and that it was more likely the virus would continue to rise and ebb. The challenge, he added, was to extinguish the “hot spots” or risk seeing them grow into one large wildfire.
Culled from theguardian.com
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