The number of weekly coronavirus cases in Europe topped 300,000 last week – higher than during the first peak in March – triggering grave warnings from health experts.
Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, the World Health Organisation's European director Dr Hans Kluge warned that Europe was facing a “very serious” situation and advised against "even a slight reduction in the length of the quarantine".
“We have a very serious situation unfolding before us,” WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said Thursday in a press briefing on the epidemiological situation in the region. “Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March.
”“More than half of European countries have reported a greater-than-10% increase in cases in the past two weeks. Of those, seven countries have seen newly reported cases increase more than two-fold in the same period,” he added.The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned Wednesday that the 14-day case notification rate (the number of newly reported cases) for the EU, European Economic Area and the U.K. “has been increasing for more than 50 days, with over half of all EU countries currently experiencing an increase in cases.
European countries from Denmark to Greece announced new restrictions on Friday to curb surging coronavirus infections in some of their largest cities, while Britain was reported to be considering a new national lockdown.Cases in the United Kingdom almost doubled to 6,000 per day in the latest reporting week, hospital admissions rose and infection rates soared across parts of northern England and London.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was inevitable that the country would see a second wave of the coronavirus, and while he did not want another national lockdown, the government may need to introduce new restrictions.
“We are now seeing a second wave coming in … It is absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable, that we will see it in this country,” he said.
The sharp rise in the number of cases meant the government had to keep everything under review.
“I don’t want to get into a second national lockdown at all,” he said, but added: “When you look at what is happening, you’ve got to wonder whether we need to go further.”
Britain has already imposed new COVID regulations on the North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire from Tuesday.
Infections have climbed steadily across most of Europe over the last two months. Intensive care admissions and deaths have also begun to tick up, especially in Spain and France.
In Spain, which has seen more cases than any other European country, the region including the Spanish capital Madrid will limit movement between and within areas badly affected by a new surge in infections, affecting more than 850,000 people.
Regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso said on Friday that access to parks and public areas would be restricted, and gatherings will be limited to six, but people would not be stopped from going to work in the country’s hardest-hit region.
“We need to avoid lockdown, we need to avoid economic disaster,” Ayuso told a news conference.
Authorities in the southern French city of Nice banned gatherings of more than 10 people in public spaces and restricted bar opening hours, following fresh curbs introduced earlier this week in Marseille and Bordeaux.
France on Friday registered more than 13,200 new infections, its highest daily count since the start of the pandemic.
In Denmark, where the 454 new infections on Friday was close to a record of 473 in April, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the limit on public gatherings would be lowered to 50 people from 100 and ordered bars and restaurants to close early.
Iceland ordered entertainment venues and pubs in the capital area to close for four days between September 18-21, while in Ireland indoor restaurant dining and indoor events were banned in Dublin after a surge in cases in recent days.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his government was preparing “regional” measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak after the Netherlands registered a record 1,972 cases in the past 24 hours.The measures will be detailed later on Friday and are expected to include tighter restrictions on public gatherings and earlier closing times for bars and restaurants. Hotspots include major cities Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.
In Greece, which emerged largely unscathed from the first wave of COVID-19 which hit Europe in March and April, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the government was ready to tighten restrictions in the greater Athens area as cases accelerated.
Mitsotakis said Greece’s committee of health experts had recommended extra curbs on public gatherings, the suspension of cultural events for 14 days and other measures which “could be decided today … and go into force on Monday.”
Europe is still hoping not to follow the example of Israel, which entered a second nationwide lockdown on Friday at the onset of the Jewish high-holiday season, following a jump in new coronavirus cases.
Israel's government announced Saturday it would impose a three-week nationwide lockdown in an effort to stem one of the world's highest novel coronavirus infection rates after a surge in cases.
The lockdown order, set to go into effect on Friday, makes Israel the first developed economy to take such a drastic measure to curb a "second wave" of virus infections.
Israel had initially been widely praised for curbing the spread of the Covid-19 disease by imposing a stringent lockdown in March, but it is now second only to Bahrain for the world's highest coronavirus infection rate per capita, according to an AFP tally.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the government decision in a televised statement, saying the cabinet had agreed "a strict (lockdown) plan for three weeks, with an option that it will be extended".
"Our goal is to stop the increase, to reduce the contagion," which has crossed the threshold of 4,000 new cases a day, he added.
The lockdown is set to begin from 1100 GMT on Friday, just hours before the start of the Jewish New Year and the High Holidays, which also include the Day of Atonement and Sukkot.
The announcement comes despite pushback from part of the ultra-Orthodox contingent in government over enforcing a lockdown during the holidays.
Under the lockdown guidelines, still to be finalised, indoor gatherings would be limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 20, meaning prayers at synagogues would be severely impacted.
Equities sink on virus angst, Fed aftermath; gold, yen rise
Global equity markets slid on Friday as investors sought direction after this week’s U.S. Federal Reserve meeting and a jump in coronavirus cases in Europe rattled sentiment, while gold rose and safe-haven buying lifted the Japanese yen.
Worries about rising coronavirus cases and a patchy economic recovery weighed on sentiment. An expected rotation into value stocks from growth and momentum has yet to fully materialize, said Yousef Abbasi, global market strategist at StoneX.A resurgence in coronavirus cases is the biggest threat to the recovering euro zone economy, according to a Reuters poll of economists, who say growth and inflation are more likely to cause negative surprises over the coming year than positive ones.
Roughly 30 million people have been infected by the virus worldwide and more than 900,000 have died, triggering some of the deepest recessions on record and disrupting global supply chains.
“The COVID-19 infection rate in Europe has gotten pretty bad,” said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager at Globalt Investments in Atlanta.
“The implications are that it’s difficult to curtail the virus.”Investors piled into emerging markets assets, with an index of developing countries’ currencies poised for its biggest weekly gain since early June as developing country debt funds enjoyed their 11th straight week of inflows.
China has been a major beneficiary of investment flows as the country is the most attractive market for asset managers with cash to allocate, according to fund flow tracker EPFR.
Stocks overnight in China made their strongest gains in three weeks, with the CSI300 index adding 2.2%, led by financial companies.
Gold prices gained, buoyed by a weaker dollar and concerns over the economic recovery that were underscored on Thursday by the elevated weekly U.S. jobless claims data.