September 21, 2020 -- France, Spain, and other European Union nations that appeared to tamp down coronavirus infections earlier in the year are now reporting alarming numbers of new cases, a World Health Organization official said this week.
"We do have a very serious situation unfolding before us,” Hans Kluge, MD, regional director of WHO in Europe, said this week at a virtual news conference, according to NPR.
"Weekly cases have exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March," Kluge said, noting that more than half the European nations have reported a greater than 10% increase in cases in the last two weeks.
"Of those, seven countries have seen newly reported cases increase more than twofold in the same period."
Kluge said he thinks restrictions and quarantines should be put back in place.
"Where the pandemic goes from here is in our hands. ... We have fought it back before, and we can fight back again," he said.
After imposing tight restrictions during the spring, most European nations pushed daily new cases into the hundreds in June and July. But as the restrictions were lifted, case numbers began climbing. For example, France on Thursday reported 13,215 new coronavirus cases, a new record for a 24-hour period, Reuters said.
Israel, though not in the EU, is also reeling from a second spike in cases after early success. The Washington Postreported that France, Spain, and Israel all have higher infection rates than the United States now.
Over the past week, Israel has reported 47 cases per day per 100,000 residents, Spain 22 cases, and France 13 cases. The United States has reported around 12 cases per day, according to the Post. The Post also noted that “the comparisons are imperfect” because of differences in testing availability from country to country.
Health and government experts said it appears cases spiked again in Europe because people let down their guards after restrictions were lifted. Thomas Tsai, MD, a surgeon and health policy researcher at Harvard University, blames “pandemic fatigue,” CNBC reported.
“There’s been this false trade off in the U.S., and I think to a certain extent in Spain and France as well, of it’s the economy or the virus, so let’s try to limp along and do both,” he said. “And the consequence is you do neither well.”
Some of these nations with spiking case numbers are re-imposing restrictions.
Israel, which lifted its first lockdown in May, on Friday entered a 3-week lockdown, during which schools, stores, malls and hotels must close and the public’s movements are restricted, the Post reported.
Because of a new outbreak in and around Madrid, the government is ordering new restrictions for that region, The Associated Press said. Parks will be closed and restaurants and shops can operate only with 50% capacity. Residents will have to justify that they’re on their way to work.
France has not re-imposed significant restrictions despite the rise in cases, and some officials are saying the French people must learn to live with the coronavirus -- for a while.
“The virus is still here for several more months,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex said, the Post reported. “We have to succeed in living with it without letting ourselves slip back into a lockdown.”
According to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Information Center, Spain has reported 640,000 cases and 30,000 deaths, France 467,000 cases and 31,000 deaths, the United Kingdom 388,000 cases and almost 42,000 deaths, Italy 296,000 cases and 35,000 deaths, Germany 272,000 cases and 9,000 deaths, and Israel 183,000 cases and 1,200 deaths.
The United States has reported 6.7 million cases and more than 199,000 deaths – the most of any nation.