Europe’s fears of a coronavirus resurgence are becoming reality after a summer of lax containment with France hitting a new peak and infections rising in Germany and Britain.
Earlier lockdowns decimated European economies and authorities are resisting renewed nationwide restrictions on movement. Despite thousands of more cases, the situation is very different than in March and April. Death rates are rising more slowly, and hospitals are still able to treat the sick, easing pressure on European leaders to take drastic action — at least for now.
Confirmed cases in France rose by 4,203 on Monday. The seven-day rolling average has been rising steadily in recent weeks and surpassed 6,000 on Friday, above previous peaks in March and April.
“It’s circulating, this virus, and thousands of cases a day is a lot, so necessarily from that perspective it’s worrisome,” and risks more hospitalizations and deaths in the weeks ahead, Health Minister Olivier Veran said Tuesday in an interview on France Inter radio. “The virus hasn’t magically mutated to be less nasty for people.”
Germany registered 1,898 new infections in the 24 hours through Tuesday morning, the most since April, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. While that’s a far cry from the almost 7,000 daily cases recorded at the height of the pandemic, the country’s public health authority warned that the situation continued to be “dynamic and serious.”
The U.K. reported almost 3,000 cases on Monday and case numbers in recent days rose to the highest since May. The increase has largely been attributed to younger people being infected, leading Health Secretary Matt Hancock to warn of the dangers of ignoring social-distancing rules, which could widen the spread.
“People have relaxed too much, now is the time for us to re-engage, and to realize that this a continuing threat to us,” Jonathan Van Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, told the BBC on Monday evening.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urging workers to return to offices and reopened schools in an attempt to kick-start the economy after the worst recession in at least a century. The government has already moved to introduce local lockdowns in areas where the virus is spreading.
On Monday, the U.K. announced 14 days of self-isolation for travelers arriving from islands including Crete and Santorini. While avoiding limits on the Greek mainland, the move adds to confusion and complexity around where people can fly unhindered, hitting the already battered travel industry.
EasyJet Plc on Tuesday said it pulled back on a plan to increase the number of flights it targeted for the current quarter, blaming changing restrictions throughout Europe.
“It is difficult to overstate the impact that the pandemic and associated government policies has had on the whole industry,” Chief Executive Officer Johan Lundgren said in a statement.
The number of covid-19 deaths in France stayed well below the levels seen at the height of the pandemic five months ago. In Germany, fatalities remained below 10 on most days in the past few weeks, which compares to several hundred daily fatalities in April. There was one fatality in the 24 hours through Tuesday.
The French Health Ministry says the coronavirus is again spreading exponentially, and increased testing doesn’t explain the jump in cases. Authorities say prevention measures have been applied less strictly, particularly by young adults and possibly linked to a resumption of social interaction during the summer.
The bulk of recent French infections are people between 15 and 44 years old. Among the elderly, who are more vulnerable but more disciplined at sticking to measures such as social distancing and mask wearing, cases have been rising more slowly, according the Health Ministry.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex has said the country can’t afford another nationwide lockdown, favoring instead more targeted restrictions. France this month made masks mandatory for companies with groups of employees working in enclosed spaces, while cities from Paris to Marseille are enforcing face masks in outside spaces.
Spain reported 2,440 new cases on Monday, down from 4,503 recorded Friday. While still below levels from the height of the crisis, when 8,000 people a day caught the disease, children are returning to schools across Spain, fueling concern that numbers could again approach peak levels.
In an attempt to contain the outbreak, the government of Madrid on Monday imposed an order to limit social gathering in public and private spaces to no more than 10 people. The region has for days recorded Spain’s highest infection rates.
In Denmark, where new daily cases rose to levels last seen in April, the government resumed some covid-related restrictions that include halving the number people allowed to gather in public to 50 and shutting down restaurants and bars by midnight. The country registered 243 new cases of coronavirus during the past 24 hours, raising the total number over the past week to 1,272.
Danske Bank, Denmark’s biggest bank, joined public sector institutions in asking employees to work from home. Nordea Bank Abp is also rolling back a decision to let all of its Denmark-based employees return to work, according to local reports.
Meanwhile Italy, the original epicenter of the pandemic in Europe, is a bright spot, reporting 1,108 infections on Monday, compared with peak levels of over 6,000.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that the coronavirus crisis will get worse before it gets better as she ruled out further easing steps. Instead, the country has recently stepped up enforcement of hygiene and distancing rules.
Germany’s national health authority said outbreaks continued to occur throughout the country, particularly in connection with celebrations with family and friends and at group events.
Despite the recent uptick in infections, the public health service has ensured that Germany has kept the pandemic “largely under control,” and hopefully can continue to do so, Merkel said Tuesday during a conference with regional and municipal health officials.