WHO warns that the continent faces a harder autumn with higher mortality
“We do not know if we are in the second wave or in the second phase of the first.” The terminological doubt was presented in a speech to MEPs earlier this month by Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The guardians of European public health are not clear if the new cases of the virus are the tail blows of spring infections or deserve to be considered as a new chapter that is just beginning. In any case, the alerts begin to grow. With expectations about the arrival of the vaccine moderating and the economy with little margin to face another hibernation, hygiene measures, social distance and the use of masks may be insufficient to contain its expansion. “We are facing a very serious situation. New weekly cases in Europe already exceed those recorded during the first peak of the pandemic. Last week more than 300,000 infected were counted ”, warned this Thursday Hans Kluge, director of the World Health Organization in Europe. His message does not ignore that laboratories are working hard to detect infected, but the increase in tests carried out is not a sufficient explanation. “While these numbers reflect further testing, they also show alarming transmission rates across Europe,” Kluge insists.
The answer to the question of whether Europe is already immersed in a second wave or is still in the second phase of the previous one may be that both options are correct. It all depends on where we are on the map. A newcomer to the continent who will step on Latvia, where there is no obligation to wear a mask on the street and the infection rate in the last two weeks is the lowest according to the ECDC, with only 4.2 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in two weeks, You might think that, despite the temperature controls at the entrances to the restaurants, the situation is under control. On the contrary, a landing in Western Europe, the geographical area of Spain (287.2 cases) and France (166.9), the two most affected countries, would convey the opposite impression.
The epicenter of the virus has been changing as the months have passed. From China it jumped to Europe, then to America with almost 200,000 deaths and almost seven million infections in the United States, and now it threatens to return while wreaking havoc in countries like India, the second most populous on the planet, where it spreads out of control with about 90,000 daily infections in September. In the worst case scenario, the pandemic may end up boomerang back to Europe with the intensity of yesteryear, or devastate several points at the same time. In the case of the Old Continent, the WHO is not the bearer of good news. “It will be harder. In October and November mortality will increase ”, Kluge told the France Presse agency this week.
According to the data managed by the organization, more than half of the European countries have posted increases of more than 10% in the numbers of infections in the last two weeks, with seven States that have seen their numbers double. The UK has registered nearly 4,000 new cases in the last 24 hours, the highest since May 8. France, with almost 10,000 infections in one day, has exceeded 400,000, while the Czech Republic and Ukraine have broken their respective records of infections detected in one day on Thursday.
The starting point from which the European partners enter the dreaded autumn is very uneven. Germany (23.7) or Italy (33), with contagion rates still low, do not have the same level of concern as Spain or France, the only ones that according to the criteria of the European Commission would appear in red on the color map that wants to implement the ECDC, by exceeding 150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in two weeks, a threshold that the Czech Republic is approaching.
Countries like Spain have been among the most affected in both the first and second waves, but others are in a very different phase. Sweden, widely criticized for its strategy of not confining the population, and with an incidence worse than that of its surroundings in spring, now has better indicators than some of its neighbors, and is managing to avoid the return of sanitary turbulence by registering its lowest number of infections since March. The Scandinavian country has seen deaths plummet to an average of zero deaths this week. Data from the Swedish health agency show that only 1.2% of the 120,000 tests carried out were positive. “We do not have the outbreak of the disease that exists in many countries,” he told France 24 chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, a great supporter of the idea of not confining. “Sweden is now at the end of the first wave, but its economy fell as much as that of its neighboring countries,” says Belgian epidemiologist Marc Van Ranst.
Advisor to the Belgian government on measures against the pandemic, Van Ranst believes that it would be a mistake not to contemplate the possibility of new confinements. “We have to do everything possible to avoid them, but the measure should be within our reach as a last resort,” he says. Regarding the severity of the restrictions, he believes that for each European country there are different formulas. “If you have the cases of Germany, Finland or Latvia, then you can go back to an almost normal life and open everything because you have a lot of margin. If you have almost 300 cases like Spain, if you open everything you will have more problems ”.
France, the Czech Republic, Spain or Ukraine have broken their records of infections since the beginning of the pandemic, although the increase in tests that are now being carried out means that comparisons with previous months are not entirely accurate. “You can’t compare the two waves because more tests are being done now. But hospitalizations in Spain and France are starting to go up again, ”says Van Ranst. For Ammon, ECDC director, as long as there is no vaccine, the ups and downs will continue, although she still considers that the situation “is not as serious as it was during confinement.”
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