- European nations are noticing an uptick in COVID-19 cases and bracing for a second wave.
- Data from the World Health Organization’s European division shows that the countries with the highest number of cases in the last 14 days include Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Germany.
- But several European countries, including Italy and Germany, have been quick and decisive in enacting strict population and individual restrictions.
Following the easing of physical distancing measures, lockdowns, and the relaxed perceptions of the dangers of the new coronavirus, several European nations are noticing an uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases and bracing for a second wave.
Data from the World Health Organization’s European division shows that the countries with the highest number of cases in the last 14 days include Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Germany.
Each of those countries reported more than 200,000 cases. Russia reported 869,000 cases, the highest on the continent.
Why are cases rising?
Dimitar Marinov, an assistant professor in the department of hygiene and epidemiology at Medical University in Varna, Bulgaria, attributes the spike to a large number of people summer traveling and the reopening of public establishments such as nightclubs and restaurants — places where the strict observance of rules like physical distancing and wearing masks isn’t always possible.
In addition, “You have a large number of people not trusting medical doctors’ and experts’ advice about wearing masks, quarantining, and the dangers of COVID,” said Marinov, who’s been studying COVID-19 trends in Europe.
He says some Balkan, Eastern, and central European nations have seen a significant rise in the number of new COVID-19 cases, including Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria.
He adds that Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands are also seeing a rise in new cases.
Several other countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Serbia, and the United Kingdom, are also reporting increases, says Chris Skopec, executive vice president for global health at Project Hope, an international healthcare organization.
There are also reports of insufficient personal protective equipment and limited health system capacity in management of severe cases in Albania, he adds.
“Many countries seeing an uptick in cases likely reopened much too soon, and many individuals relaxed their efforts to follow public health recommendations,” Skopec said. “But this is not unique to Europe, as evidenced by case numbers in the U.S., Australia, Japan, and other countries.”
He says countries recording these increases must be ready to dial back reopenings as soon as they see an uptick in cases.
“Waiting a week too long could give COVID the upper hand,” Skopec said. “The mistaken notion that certain countries or municipalities have beaten the virus led many to think they could simply carry on as if the disease was no longer a threat. This second wave is proof otherwise and should serve as a reminder that we all need to remain vigilant.”
European ‘spikes’ vs. U.S. ‘surges’
But experts caution that while there is in fact a rise in cases on the European continent, it’s important to have some perspective.
“The European concept of a ‘spike’ is a really good day in the United States,” said Scott Greer, a professor of global public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, adding that a lot of public health systems in Europe are, to a significant extent, on top of the pandemic.
“The outbreak and spread are far smaller,” he said. “Florida is [a] tougher place to be than any place in the European Union.”
Indeed, the United States, with 4.85 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, accounts for more than a quarter of the world’s 18.8 million cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
Of these, there have been nearly 160,000 related deaths in the United States out of 692,000 worldwide.
In contrast, the European Union, which comprises 28 member nations that include Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, and France, has recorded 1.75 million cases and 183,000 deaths.
Then there’s the reality that the current surge in cases in Europe is more of a part of the first wave of COVID-19, says Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University and director of ICAP, a global health program at Columbia.
After the first surge in cases in March and April, some countries experienced a decrease in numbers of cases while other countries experienced a more modest decrease with a plateau in new numbers.
The reason for this second surge in some countries is either the premature easing of population epidemic control measures or a rapid easing of such restrictions, El-Sadr says.
She says there’s particular concern for the fall and winter, because people are more likely to be indoors plus the anticipation of seasonal influenza.
El-Sadr says several European countries, including Italy and Germany, have been quick and decisive in enacting strict population and individual restrictions.
She says Germany and some Scandinavian countries are also carefully examining the impact of school reopenings.
Marinov says Greece, one of the continent’s most popular summer tourist destinations, has been masterful in its handling of the epidemic.
The Mediterranean nation has among the lowest disease and death rates due to COVID-19, rates he attributes to strict requirements, such as having a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic test before entering the state.
“Furthermore, they take samples at the border or at the airports of all visitors to check once again if they are infected or not,” he said. “Those infected are tracked and isolated.”
“There are important lessons to be learned from these experiences, including for the United States,” El Sadr added.
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