The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of “alarming rates of transmission” of Covid-19 across Europe and cautioned countries against shortening quarantine periods.
The Covid-19 respiratory disease is caused by the coronavirus.
The WHO’s regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said that the number of coronavirus cases seen in September “should serve as a wake-up call for all of us”.
“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region,” he told an online press conference from the Danish capital Copenhagen.
The health body also said it would not change its guidance calling for a 14-day quarantine period for anyone exposed to the novel coronavirus.
“Our quarantine recommendation of 14 days has been based on our understanding of the incubation period and transmission of the disease. We would only revise that on the basis of a change of our understanding of the science,” WHO Europe’s senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said.
In France for instance, the recommended length for self-isolation in case of exposure has been reduced from 14 to seven days.
It is 10 days in the UK and Ireland, and several other European countries, such as Portugal and Croatia, are currently considering reducing their recommendations.
“Knowing the immense individual and societal impact even a slight reduction in the length of quarantine can have ... I encourage countries of the region to make scientific due process with their experts and explore safe reduction options,” Kluge said, adding that the “concept of quarantine must be protected” and “continuously adapted.
The 53 member states of WHO Europe have recorded nearly 5mn cases of Covid-19 and more than 227,000 related deaths, according to the organisation’s own figures.
The number of daily cases recorded is currently between 40,000 and 50,000, comparable to a daily peak of 43,000 on April 1 – although testing in many countries has increased considerably.
A new record was set on September 11, with some 54,000 cases recorded in 24 hours.
Following the introduction of strict measures in many countries around Europe, cases hit an all-time low in June, Kluge stressed.
“If you lift the pressure from the virus, naturally you’re going to see this increase,” he said.
However, noting reports that Europeans were experiencing Covid-19 “fatigue”, he said that rather than returning to lockdowns authorities ought to “focus on reducing harm, where and when possible.”
“Engage the youth in finding new and safe ways to be social,” Kluge said.
Meanwhile, the Madrid region, once again at the centre of a major coronavirus outbreak, has admitted that it is overwhelmed, calling for “decisive” central government action on the eve of unveiling fresh restrictions.
In a country where public health services are left in the hands of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, senior official Ignacio Aguado said it is “necessary and urgent that the Spanish government get involved, and that means decisively, in controlling the pandemic”.
“The reality of the epidemic in the community of Madrid is getting worse and we need to make greater efforts,” said Aguado, the vice-president of the region of some 6.6mn people.
Spain is currently battling a resurgent second wave of Covid-19 although the mortality levels are far lower than they were in spring.
And once again, Madrid is the region with the worst outbreak, accounting for one-third of the national figure for both infections and deaths.
Spain has so far suffered more than 30,000 deaths and 600,000 cases of Covid-19, government figures show, with the numbers rising so rapidly that in one week alone, the country added around 100,000 new infections.
More than 2mn people in northeast England face new restrictions because of a surge in coronavirus cases, the UK government announced yesterday, as it battled to contain a potential second wave of infection.
Tighter regulations on socialising are due to come into force from today in Northumberland, North and South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, and County Durham.
Residents will be banned from socialising in homes or gardens with people from outside their household, while food and drink venues will be restricted to table service only.
Nightspots will have to shut early by 10pm (2100 GMT).
“We do not take these decisions lightly,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament, acknowledging that they would have a “real impact on families, on businesses and on communities”.
But he added: “We must follow the data and act, and the data says that we must act now.”
Britain has been the worst-hit country in Europe by the pandemic, with the government registering nearly 42,000 deaths.
The Office of National Statistics, which uses broader criteria for counting Covid-19 fatalities, has said closer to 58,000 Britons have died from the virus.
France meanwhile registered 10,593 new confirmed coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, setting a new daily record and pushing the cumulative number to 415,481, the health ministry reported yesterday.
The previous high was 10,561 new cases in a day, recorded on September 12.
The sharp increase is a result of a higher infection rate but also of a massive increase in testing.
The government has made Covid-19 testing free, resulting in long queues at testing centres in cities across France.
The number of people who have died from the virus in France increased by 50 to 31,095, the second-highest number in two months following the 80 deaths reported on September 11.
The Czech Republic is struggling to stem a massive spike in coronavirus infections after clocking a record daily rate of infection on par with neighbouring Germany, which has a population that is eight times larger.
The EU country of 10.7mn people reported yesterday that it had confirmed 2,139 cases over the last 24 hours.
Ladislav Dusek, head of the Czech Institute of Health Information and Statistics, said the epidemic is no longer spreading within closed clusters.
“We are facing a big risk of an exponential spread,” Dusek said.
Health Minister Adam Vojtech announced that the government would further tighten measures against the virus – it will close nightspots between midnight and 6am and introduce face masks in classrooms for pupils and students over 11.
The country has had more than 41,000 confirmed cases since the March outbreak, including 482 deaths, with 35 deaths in the past week alone.
With the number of new coronavirus cases in the Netherlands hitting a record high for the third consecutive day yesterday, the health ministry warned that test capacity was not nearly enough to deal with the wave of possible infections expected in the coming months.
Testing and lab capacity would have to be expanded from the current level of about 30,000 tests per day to 55,000 per day in November, up to 70,000 in December and 85,000 per day from February, the ministry said.
“We are doing everything we can to expand our capacity, but it is not sufficient as yet,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a debate in Dutch parliament yesterday.
Testing capacity has already been strained in recent weeks, forcing people across the country to wait days for a test, as authorities said too many people without clear Covid-19 symptoms were applying for one.
The daily rate of infections has surged in recent weeks, reaching a record level of 1,753, to a total of 88,073.
Austria is meanwhile limiting private indoor gatherings to 10 people in the face of rising coronavirus infections, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said yesterday, a day after Germany issued a travel warning for the Austrian capital.
The Alpine nation’s confirmed cases have been increasing since late June and that rise has accelerated in recent weeks, with daily infections matching those last seen in late March, when a lockdown was in place.
Having announced only last Friday that private indoor gatherings would be limited to 50 people, the government doubled down yesterday, lowering the limit and announcing other new measures, particularly in bars and restaurants.
“These are restrictions that hurt but they are restrictions that are necessary to hopefully prevent a second lockdown,” Kurz told a news conference, saying the new measures would apply as of Monday and the only exception would be for funerals, though higher existing limits for professional events remain unchanged.
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