As the number of Kovid-19 infections rises to record levels, European governments are imposing tougher local measures and weighing more lockdowns in an effort to stem the second wave of the epidemic.
However, WHO Regional Director Hans Kluge told a news conference on Thursday that the rise in cases would serve as a warning to those to come.
“The weekly cases are now over when the pandemic first erupted in Europe in March,” Kluge said. “Last week, the area’s weekly number exceeded 300,000 patients.”
More than half of European countries have seen an increase of more than 10% in new cases in the past two weeks, Kluge said. “Seven of those countries have more than doubled the number of newly reported cases in the same period,” he said.
“In the early spring and early summer we were able to see the impact of the tough lockdown measures. Our efforts, our sacrifices paid off. The June cases have reached an all-time low. The September case numbers, however, should wake up – a call to all,” he said.
“While these numbers reflect a more comprehensive test, it also shows the transmission rate across the region.”
Despite the increase in cases in old age, those aged 50 to 79, in the first week of September, said the highest percentage of new cases was between 25 and 49 years old.
Countries on the continent are easing lockdowns and reopening their economies, but governments are now trying to prevent further spread.
“This pandemic has taken a lot from us,” Kluge said, adding that nearly 4.9 million Kovid-19 cases have been reported in Europe and more than 226,000 people have died. “And it only tells a part of the story,” he said. “The impact on our mental health, economies, livelihoods and society is monumental.”
Cases have also increased in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy.
New restrictions were imposed across England this week, banning people over the age of six from socializing in groups of all ages, indoors or outdoors. Scotland and Wales have also tightened their social distance rules.
From Friday, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced in Parliament on Thursday that tough measures would apply amid an increase in Kovid-19 infection rates in the northeast of England.
These measures include a ban on socializing outdoor homes or “support bubbles” and a mandatory closing time of 10pm for all bars, pubs, restaurants and leisure centers. They cover seven areas, including Newcastle, Sunderland and Durham, and affect more than 1.5 million people.
Hancock stressed the need for “immediate action” on the virus as winter approaches.
According to the JHU, which has the highest toll in Europe and the fifth largest number in any country in the world, at least 41,773 people have died of coronavirus in the UK.
The UK government has been under pressure over recent failures in the coronavirus testing system, with some – including health care workers – having difficulty accessing the tests or being advised to test sites away from home.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday defended Britain’s coronavirus test record, saying it was comparable to other European countries and that recent problems were due to a “huge spike” in demand.
WHO Chief: We can fight the virus again
Authorities in the Spanish capital, Madrid, will announce new coronavirus sanctions on Friday as the country responds to an increase in the number of cases.
Spain has now recorded more than 30,000 deaths since the outbreak began, with a total of 600,000 cases.
Madrid accounted for a third of all new cases, according to the country’s health ministry.
Isabel Diaz Ayuso, president of Madrid’s regional government, suggested that the immigrant population should be blamed to some extent.
“(Somewhat) the spread is due to the lifestyle of immigrants from Madrid and the population density of these districts,” she said on Tuesday. “It’s a way of life in Madrid.”
The State Prosecution Service in Munich has launched an investigation into the Americans, who may have contributed to the increase in cases.
New regulations imposed in the town of Garmish-Partenkirchen over the weekend mean local bars will now be closed at 10pm which means parties are limited to 100 people – down from 200 – and indoor dining groups at five, have doubled.
In neighboring Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz warned citizens that more cases were on their way. “We’re at the start of the second wave,” he tweeted Sunday. “Autumn and winter are the hardest months for us. The number of infections is increasing day by day.”
Kurz urged Austrian citizens to adhere to all viral measures and reduce social contact.
Meanwhile, countries including Greece and Croatia saw a rapid increase in the number of cases in August, with tourists taking summer vacations after reopening Europe’s internal borders in June.
“A broad collective effort of all European member states for all European member states,” Kluge told the media on Thursday.
“Response to a crisis is most effective when actions are quick and steady, but the virus shows relentlessness whenever there is bias and misinformation,” he says.
“Where the pandemic goes from here is in our hands. We have fought before and we can fight again.”
CNN’s Jameera Rahim, Lindsay Isaac, Simon Cullen, Stephanie Halaz, Laura Perez Maestro, Ingrid Formanek, Melissa Bell and Pierre Byrne contributed to the report.