Europe sounds alarm over resurgent virus infections

Updated 24 Oct 2020

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Medical staff waits for a Covid-19 patient to be airlifted by helicopter at Flevoziekenhuis, or FlevoHospital, in Almere, Netherlands on Oct 23. — AP
Medical staff waits for a Covid-19 patient to be airlifted by helicopter at Flevoziekenhuis, or FlevoHospital, in Almere, Netherlands on Oct 23. — AP

STOCKHOLM: The EU’s disease control agency on Friday joined frantic health workers across Europe in sounding the alarm about the surge in coronavirus infections.

Several countries in Europe are reporting infection rates higher than during the first wave of the pandemic in March and April, with Spain saying it has now more than three million cases.

Governments across the continent are slapping urgent new restrictions on daily life, with France extending a curfew to cover 46 million people and Ireland locked down again.

“The continuing increases in Covid-19 infections... pose a major threat to public health, with most countries having a highly concerning epidemiological situation,” said Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The agency said all EU countries except Cyprus, Estonia, Finland and Greece fell into a “serious concern” category, as did the United Kingdom, up from just seven a month ago.

Across the planet, Covid-19 has now claimed the lives of 1.1 million people — about one fifth in the United States — and infected close to 42 million.

“We’re losing. We’re overwhelmed. We’re bitter,” said Benoit Misset, head of the intensive care unit at the University Hospital in the Belgian city of Liege, where several of his staff are having to work despite being Covid-positive — if asymptomatic — themselves.

Brussels and Wallonia, the French-speaking region of which Liege is a major city, are now the epicentres of Europe’s renewed crisis.

“It’s trench warfare”, with the difference that “it’s not bombs, it’s a virus” and “it’s the virus calling the shots, not us, not politicians, not scientists,” Misset said.

In France, the boss of Paris public hospital group AP-HP warned the second wave could be worse than the first as the government expanded a nighttime curfew to cover more than two-thirds of the population.

“There are many positive people, infectious, in the streets without knowing it and without anyone else knowing it,” Martin Hirsch told French radio.

Spain officially became the first EU nation — and only the sixth in the world — to surpass one million confirmed Covid-19 infections on Wednesday.

But in a televised address on Friday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the “real number” of cases was actually more than three million.

Several regional authorities have announced new measures, with the Madrid region banning household gatherings from midnight to 6 am and halving capacity in bars and restaurants.

Wales was set to enter a full lockdown on Friday evening, a day after Ireland shut down. Poland meanwhile adopted a nationwide “red zone” lockdown that includes the partial closure of primary schools and restaurants.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2020