Alarm in Europe as COVID-19 cases more than double in 10 days

Several countries step up physical distancing measures in response to the rapid rate of infection.

So far, Europe has recorded more than 7.8 million cases and about 247,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic [Alberto Pizzoli/AFP]

Alarm is spreading across Europe as the number of coronavirus cases has more than doubled in 10 days, with several southern European countries reporting their highest daily case numbers this week.

The entire continent reported more than 200,000 daily infections for the first time on Thursday, overtaking on that day the number of daily cases in India, Brazil and the United States combined.

The increase is to an extent explained by far more testing than was done in the first wave of the pandemic. So far, Europe has recorded more than 7.8 million cases and about 247,000 deaths.

But the argument that those figures are greatly inflated by the increased testing is flawed. This is because a rising proportion of tests are returning positive results.

Spain this week became the first western European nation to surpass one million COVID-19 cases, but on Friday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the real number was probably more than three million.

Meanwhile, in Slovakia, a nationwide lockdown will start from Saturday until at least November 1, Prime Minister Igor Matovic has announced. The government also plans to launch mass COVID-19 testing from Friday to Sunday, targeting the most-affected districts.

In France, cases rose by a record 40,000 on Thursday; the government has extended a curfew put in place a week ago in the capital Paris.

“Every hour in France, 1,000 people are declared to have COVID-19. Every minute there is a new hospitalisation. The steps we are taking aim to reverse the trend. Each of us holds a piece of the solution,” French Health Minister Olivier Veran wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Poland will on Saturday close restaurants and bars for two weeks and limit public gatherings to five people after new coronavirus infections hit a daily record of more than 13,600.

“Our actions must be much more decisive,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki asserted, as he said a full lockdown will go ahead if necessary. “What worries us a lot is the speed of the increase.”

Starting from Friday at midnight, Italy’s region of Lazio, which includes the capital Rome, will be under an overnight five-hour curfew, in line with other regions such as Lombardy and Campania.

Lazio residents will not be able to leave their homes from midnight to 5am, except travel to or from work or other emergency reasons. The move comes as the country registered a record high of 16,079 new cases.

A woman wearing a face mask sits near the Roman Forum as Italy is facing a surge in coronavirus infections, in Rome [Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters]

Germany reported more than 10,000 daily cases for the first time in the past 24 hours, and has extended travel warnings for Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, most of Austria and Italian regions including Rome.

Belgium, one of the European countries worst hit by the new coronavirus, tightened restrictions on physical distancing on Friday by banning fans from sports matches, limiting the number of people in cultural spaces and closing theme parks. The country had already closed cafes, bars and restaurants and imposed a night curfew.

Medical personnel treat a patient suffering from COVID-19 in the ICU at the CHIREC Braine l’Alleud-Waterloo Hospital, Belgium [Yves Herman/Reuters]

Belgium has Europe’s second-highest infection rate per capita after the Czech Republic where the newly appointed health minister resigned after breaking strict government restrictions by visiting a restaurant in Prague.

Three more areas of England fall now under the “high” category of the United Kingdom’s new three-tier system. This means that people in the affected areas will not be allowed to meet others outside their households. Several cities in northern England are in the top “very high” category, which requires the closure of bars, pubs, casinos and other areas for at least four weeks.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies