The WHO Director-General Tedros Adhahnom Ghebreyesus has warned: The northern hemisphere is at a critical juncture in the Covid pandemic, and some countries are on a dangerous track.
“Too many countries are seeing an exponential increase in cases,” putting hospital capacities at risk, he said.
He urged leaders to take quick action to contain the virus’s spread.
Europe is again the epicenter of the coronavirus (officially Covid-19) pandemic as hospitalizations increase.
Globally the number of cases has passed 42 million and the number of deaths has exceeded 1.1 million.
Governments around Europe have begun imposing curfews more widely.
Europe is facing dearth of medical staff in test of virus readiness.
The ECB is preparing more aid as spreading virus derails economy.
Sweden’s lax Covid policy is no slam-dunk for industrial sector.
The international and Chinese teams that will study the zoonotic origins of the virus will meet virtually before the end of the month, said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program.
Once again, Europe is the epicenter of the pandemic
Daily infections in Europe exceeded 200,000 for the first time on Thursday, surpassing the combined total of those in the U.S., Brazil and India, Reuters reported. Many European countries reported their highest single-day case tallies this week.
Hospitals in Europe are not yet overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients, but they are steadily filling up, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC).
Most European nations are increasing restrictions to tackle a second wave of the COVID-19 disease.
France and many other European countries may be forced to resort to lockdowns again.
Arnaud Fontanet, a senior scientific adviser to the French government, said: “Then there was one cold week in September and all the indicators went the wrong way again, all over Europe. The virus spreads better in the cold because we live more inside.”
France and Italy – along with European countries including Hungary and the Latin American country Bolivia – posted daily records as the continent wrestles with a surge in cases and wider restrictions.
Pharmacies in France and a number of other European countries have been running short of flu vaccines as people followed government advice to get inoculated to reduce the risk of a potentially lethal “twindemic.”
In Spain, the number of infections is likely around 3 million, some three times higher than official data show, the Spanish prime minister said.
Austria, The Netherlands, Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia all reported record numbers of daily coronavirus cases this week.
Leaders in France, Germany and other countries have warned that their health systems are facing an overload.
Faster than the first wave in France
In France, the virus is now spreading faster than the first wave in the spring, a scientific advisor to the government said.
France reported a record 42,032 new cases, the French health agency said, taking the total to 1.041 million. Deaths increased by 298 to 34,508, the most since May, while hospitalizations jumped by almost 1,000 patients, rising above 15,000 for the first time in about five months.
French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking a day after the government announced an extension of a nightly curfew to a vast part of the country, said authorities will have a clearer view of its impact in the middle of next week, and will have to keep adjusting measures in coming weeks.
“In the current phase, we have no other choice, given the number of daily infections, to reduce our social life to the maximum,” he said, adding it is too early to say if the country will reintroduce local or wider lockdowns.
In France, about 35 per cent of intensive care cases are under 65.
Arnaud Fontanet said the virus is now spreading faster than during its initial outbreak. “The virus is circulating more quickly,” he warned, adding that the fight against the disease would be “a marathon,”
The current surge in infections is attributed partly to more relaxed behavior during the summer, when numbers fell. Families travelled on holiday, students returned to universities and large gatherings resumed, allowing Covid-19 to spread.
Dr Fontanet said the French authorities had succeeded in bringing the virus under control by the end of June, with the number of hospitalizations remaining low until the end of August, which gave a false sense of security, although cases were increasing.
Jean Castex, the French prime minister, has hinted that another lockdown may be imminent unless the pandemic is brought under control. Acknowledging that the curfew caused hardship, he warned people to observe restrictions on social gatherings, maintain physical distancing and work from home to avert the need for “much harder measures”.
Italy tops record again
Italy reported a 19% increase in daily virus cases Friday to a record of 19,143. The country registered 91 deaths, down from 136 Thursday.
Patients in intensive care units surpassed 1,000, reaching 1,049, compared with an early April peak of more than 4,000.
Milan, the hardest-hit area, started a nighttime curfew Thursday.
Italy’s government may enact a national curfew as early as 9 p.m., possibly within seven days, if current virus trends are unchecked.
Spain’s 3 million cases
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the number of people in Spain who have contracted coronavirus since the start of the pandemic likely exceeds 3 million, some three times higher than official data would suggest.
The higher number is based on serology tests, which measure the antibody response, Sanchez said. “We have to put in place the measures needed with the least economic impact,” Sanchez said. “We must at all cost avoid going back to home confinements as we did in spring. The next few weeks and months, now that we enter the winter, will be difficult, very difficult.”
Britain Belgium Czech Republic
The numbers of coronavirus patients in Britain and Belgium have doubled in the past two weeks.
Belgium’s French-speaking southern region of Wallonia widened the existing national curfew that begins at midnight, ordering residents to stay inside from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for one month, after Brussels and the five Walloon provinces have 14-day incidence rates that are twice as high as those of the Flemish provinces in the north of the country.
The Czech Republic has the highest number of hospital cases per capita, according to the ECDC, amid alarm over the increasing number of its health workers falling ill.
However, the spread of coronavirus is slowing across England, as Boris Johnson imposes tighter restrictions on parts of the north and Midlands in order to rein it in further.
The rate of growth in the virus, or R rate, is about 1.2 to 1.4 across the U.K. – down from 1.3 to 1.5 a week earlier, according to estimates released on Friday by the government’s scientific advisers, who said the rate of spread has declined across six of England’s seven regions.
The mortality rate rose in England in September for the first time since April, according to data compiled by the Office for National Statistics. Still, the virus was not one of the 10 leading causes of death registered in September in England or Wales. New Covid infections are running at about 35,200 a day in England, the ONS estimated in another report.
Separately, a high-profile rugby match between England’s national men’s team and the Barbarians, scheduled for Sunday, was canceled because several players broke Covid protocols by leaving their hotel bubble without telling anyone.
Poland and Bulgaria are also badly affected and people across much of Europe are now more likely to be hospitalized than in the U.S.
Poland has turned its largest sports stadium into a temporary 500-bed field hospital.
Poland faces a “deep lockdown” if the coronavirus pandemic continues to spiral out of control, according to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Morawiecki issued the stern warning on Friday as he announced new limits on gatherings, closures of bars and restaurants, mandatory online classes for some elementary school students and movement restrictions. The moves come after Poland registered a record number of Covid-19 cases in four of the last seven days.
It shows that the pandemic is still dangerous despite earlier suggestions that the virus had become less deadly or affected only the elderly.
Germany, which reported more than 10,000 daily cases for the first time on Thursday, extended travel warnings for Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, most of Austria and Italy, including Rome.
Dutch daily tally exceeds 10,000 for the first time
A record 10,007 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the Netherlands, Dutch news agency ANP reported, citing health agency RIVM.
The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care units stood at 472, an increase of nine from the day before, according to numbers released by LCPS, a hospital logistics group.
Tighter measures in Switzerland, Denmark, Luxembourg
Denmark will limit public gatherings to 10 people – from 50 – and expand the mandatory use of facemasks after registering its highest ever-daily tally of coronavirus cases.
The new measures, some of which will take effect from Monday, are the toughest since Denmark enforced one of Europe’s swiftest lockdowns back in March. A spike in new cases has spread across the Nordic region, where strategies to fight the pandemic have varied from country to country.
Luxembourg also introduced a curfew to cope with a record rise in infections.
People are expected to stay at home between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. for one month as soon as lawmakers approve the new restrictions.
In Switzerland, Geneva plans to limit public and private gatherings to five people to slow the spread of the virus. The new measures come into effect at midnight Sunday and will be in place until November 30.
Portugal orders masks for busy outdoor areas
Facemasks will have to be worn in crowded outdoor areas across Portugal, parliament decided on Friday, in a scramble to contain the surge in coronavirus cases.
The measure, valid for at least 70 days, orders residents aged 10 or over to wear masks outside whenever physical distancing cannot be guaranteed.
“It should have happened a long time ago, more than six months ago,” taxi driver Antonio Jose, 68, said, wearing a mask as he waited for his next customer. “It’s not too late.”
“It is good to follow in the footsteps of other countries in Europe to try to kill this bug,” said 28-year-old Ulrich, from Belgium but living in Portugal.
Some Lisbon residents were not convinced all people will follow the new rule and said wearing masks inside public spaces and shops was more than enough.
“People want to show their faces, they want to breathe,” said Venezuelan migrant Francisco, 38, who moved to Portugal more than a decade ago.
Rule-breaking citizens risk a fine of between 100 and 500 euros ($592.00).
Portugal, with just over 10 million people, has recorded a comparatively low 109,541 cases and 2,245 deaths.
But on Thursday, it registered 3,270 cases, the highest daily figure since the pandemic started, although testing has also increased. Most of the new cases are concentrated in the northern region and in and around the capital Lisbon.
Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia report biggest one-day rise in cases
Croatia reported its biggest rise in daily new COVID-19 infections on Thursday with 1,563 cases, nearly half of which were in its capital Zagreb, where they more than doubled.
Zagreb recorded a high of 705 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday compared with the previous day’s 337 infections.
So far, Croatia, a country of some four million people, has recorded 29,850 cases with 406 deaths. There are currently 7,380 active cases.
Neighboring Slovenia, with two million people, also reported a record number of daily cases on Thursday, reaching 1,663 infections.
Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa said that from Saturday all non-essential activities in the country would be halted for seven days to contain the disease. These include hotels and other businesses that provide food, drinks and accommodation, shopping centers and kindergartens.
Exceptions will be food stores and stores for construction material and for pets.
Croatia’s southeastern neighbor, Bosnia, on Thursday reported a record 999 new infections, bringing the total cases in the country of about 3.3 million to 37,314, with 1,051 deaths.
In Asia, India has reported 53,370 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, taking the overall tally past 7.8 million.
The Indian Health Ministry on Saturday also reported 650 deaths, driving the country’s toll to 117,956. The highest number of new infections is coming from Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka states. They are also reporting the maximum number of daily recoveries.
Last month, India hit a peak of nearly 100,000 cases in a single day, but since then daily infections have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third, even as testing has remained consistent.
India is still adding more than 50,000 cases a day as the country prepares for a festival season when large crowds gather. Health officials have warned about the potential for the virus to spread.
Sri Lanka closes harbors after 609 test positive
Authorities in Sri Lanka on Saturday closed at least two fishery harbors and many stalls after a surge of 609 cases linked to the country’s main fish market.
The government also widened the curfew in parts of Colombo. At least 11 villages were isolated in the densely populated Western province, which includes the capital.
Authorities say the outbreak is related to a cluster in a garment factory early this month, which has grown to 3,426 cases, almost half the country’s total of 6,287. It broke a two-month lull in infections.
Several thousand people have been asked to quarantine at home. Schools and key public offices are closed, gatherings banned and restrictions imposed on public transport.
Sri Lanka has had 14 deaths since March.
All staff and students from two schools in northeast Melbourne have been told to immediately get tested for COVID-19 after the emergence of seven new cases on Saturday. There were no deaths. Both schools will be closed for the next two weeks. Already about 800 residents in Melbourne’s northern suburbs have been isolating because of the school outbreak. Warnings have been issued to workers, including taxi drivers, who might have visited the area.
The state’s death toll remained at 817 on Saturday and the national figure at 905, with only one death in the past week.
The updated figures Saturday followed the city’s most significant anti-lockdown protest on Friday. A “Freedom Day” rally began mid-afternoon and continued for several hours, erupting at times in violent scuffles between police and demonstrators, many of whom did not wear masks. Police arrested 16 people and handed out dozens of fines. Three police officers were injured and one was taken to a hospital.
South Korea has reported 77 new cases of the coronavirus, mostly from the greater capital area where officials are scrambling to stem transmissions at hospitals and nursing homes.
Figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Saturday brought the country’s caseload to 25,775, including 457 deaths. Among the 1,484 active cases, 60 are in serious condition. Fifty-nine of the new cases were reported from densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which has emerged as the epicenter of the outbreak since summer.
Hundreds of cases have been linked to a handful of hospitals and nursing homes. Officials are testing thousands of medical workers to stem infections. Eleven of the new cases were tied to international arrivals, including passengers from the United States, the Philippines and India.
Argentina extends virus measures
Argentina extended its virus prevention measures for 14 days, President Alberto Fernandez said, without giving dates. The country’s cases may plateau at 15,000 per day, he added.