The EU’s disease control agency has joined frantic health workers to sound the alarm over a COVID-19 surge across Europe, as the WHO warned of an “exponential” rise in infections.
Even countries that avoided severe outbreaks during Europe’s first wave of contagion in the spring have watched their case numbers surge, with Germany’s death toll passing 10,000 yesterday.
Governments have reintroduced containment measures to slow the renewed spread of the virus in nations that only weeks earlier believed they had triumphed over the crisis.
However, populations weary of social isolation and economic hardship have pushed back against fresh restrictions, including overnight clashes in hard-hit Naples between Italian police and hundreds of protesters.
The continent was facing a major threat to public health and a “highly concerning epidemiological situation,” European Center for Disease Prevention and Control Director Andrea Ammon said.
The agency said all EU countries except Cyprus, Estonia, Finland and Greece fell into a “serious concern” category, as did the UK, up from just seven a month ago.
After Spain became the first European country to officially record 1 million COVID-19 cases earlier in the week, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Friday said that the real number of infections was likely more than triple that figure.
France on Friday followed Spain past the million-case milestone, while Germany hit a fresh daily record of nearly 15,000 new cases, with health authorities urging the public to follow social distancing measures.
Urgent new restrictions on daily life have come into effect in several nations, with France extending a curfew to cover 46 million people.
Parts of Italy, including the capital, Rome, went under curfew late on Friday, prompting a call to protest on social media that saw hundreds of demonstrators in Naples throw objects at police and set garbage bins on fire.
The country is reeling from its worst post-war recession after a grueling two-month national lockdown prompted by one of Europe’s worst outbreaks, and authorities have so far been reluctant to repeat the drastic quarantine restrictions seen then.
Wales entered a full lockdown on Friday evening, a day after Ireland shut down, while Poland adopted a nationwide “red zone” lockdown mandating the partial closure of primary schools and restaurants.
Polish President Andrzej Duda has tested positive for COVID-19, an aide said yesterday.
Only Sweden, which refused to lock down earlier this year, continued to stick to its guns, despite a rise in cases.
COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 1.1 million people worldwide and infected more than 42 million, with the WHO saying that the northern hemisphere was at a critical juncture.
“Too many countries are seeing an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases and that is now leading to hospitals and intensive care units running close to or above capacity,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Belgium has seen one of Europe’s deadliest per capita outbreaks and has found itself suffering some of the highest second-wave infection rates in Europe.
“We’re losing. We’re overwhelmed. We’re bitter,” said Benoit Misset, head of the intensive care unit at the University Hospital in the city of Liege, where several of his staff are having to work despite being positive — if asymptomatic — themselves.
Work has continued on the international quest to find a vaccine, with clinical trials for one candidate developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University resuming in the US on Friday, six weeks after a test subject became ill.
Former US vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, said that if elected he would mandate free COVID-19 vaccines for all Americans.
“Once we have a safe and effective vaccine, it has to be free to everyone — whether or not you’re insured,” Biden said in a speech laying out his pandemic response plan just 11 days before the Nov. 3 election.
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