TOh wow! Arise like an epidemic – slowly, almost before a spiral bounce. In some parts of Europe, there is a possibility that Kovid-19 cases may again be near a menstrual inflection point. In Spain, daily new cases have increased to nearly tenfold in the week until 28 July, when the lockdown was lifted. The rise in less dramatic, but worrying cases is beginning to boil over in other European countries.
At the moment, spikes in Europe are largely confined to a few hotspot countries, regions within them, or even cities. The rate of infection is particularly high in the Balkans and Spain, which in the last week has reported about 27 cases per 100,000 people. The same case rates are in single digits in Germany, France and Italy. In both low- and high-rate countries, the bulk of new cases are often concentrated in particular locations. Two-thirds of Spain’s cases in the past week have been from just two regions, Catalonia and Aragon, home to the fifth Spaniard. About 20% of Italy’s cases in the same period are in the Emilia-Romagna region, with only 7% of the population.
The increase in cases in Europe is not surprising, says Hans Kluge of the World Health Organization. As soon as the lockdown was lifted and people resumed travel and mingling, both imported cases and prolonged the local spread of the virus. What is different now is that the testing and tracing system is catching local spikes quickly, and officials are grappling with local measures. On 27 July, Antwerp, Belgium’s most populous province, announced a night curfew for the non-essential movement and mandated masks in public places; People were asked to stay at home as much as possible. Kovid groups have sprung up all over Germany, in care homes, workplaces and private parties, forcing authorities to impose local lockouts. In mid-July, Catalan authorities imposed a tight lockout in the 140,000 city of Leleda. Nightclubs in Barcelona and other hotspots in Spain were recently closed or ordered to close early.
The variation in Kovid-19 rates across Europe has prompted countries to make some difficult choices. In a typical year, some 18m Britons enjoy sunshine in Spain, along with many other Northern Europeans. But as soon as cases came up in Spain, Britain and Norway swiftly brought back quarantines for those who arrived from Spain. Holidays for Greece of some Balkan countries will now have to show evidence of a negative Kovid-19 test to enter the country. This has dealt a blow to what has been done in most countries of Southern Europe during the foreign tourist season. But there is a collective sigh of relief among the crowded clubs with drunk foreigners and health officials watching along the beaches.
However, that still leaves the point of speeding up local broadcasting. One pattern of reductions across Europe is that the new cases have been mostly in their 20s and 30s among people; Groups involving large parties have become a recurring theme throughout the continent. German politicians have warned that citizens are rising about the dangers; Surveys confirm the suspicion that fewer people are avoiding crowded public places or private gatherings. Dr. Clues says the priority in Europe now is to ensure that youth follow such precautions more. If it fails, he says, it won’t be long before the infection spreads to older, weaker people.
As summer begins to subside, the need for outbreaks throughout Europe will intensify. A major concern in all countries is autumn, when people start living more time indoors and flu and other respiratory infections increase, filling hospital beds as they do each year. With a high plateau of Kovid-19 cases, a return to exponential growth can be seen in countries that reach the point that re-overwhelms hospitals. Across Europe, they were better prepared for the second wave than before, with new measures to prevent the spread of Kovid-19 to hospitals and additional beds and area hospitals that are now moths. But how tough they are will depend to a great extent on how much their citizens play by the new general rules.■
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This article appeared in the Europe edition of the print edition under the title “Still With Us”