Countries that managed to contain infection rates through spring lockdowns and began relaxing measures are watching the virus return with a vengeance, with Germany, France and the Czech Republic all reporting record case numbers in the past two days.
“The fall/winter surge continues to unfold in Europe with exponential increases in daily cases and matching percentage increases in daily deaths,” WHO Europe director Hans Kluge told a news briefing Thursday.
He said the situation was of “great concern,” with daily case numbers and hospital admissions up and the region registering its highest weekly incidence of Covid-19 cases — almost 700,000 — since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Projections from reliable epidemiological models are not optimistic,” warned Kluge. “These models indicate that prolonged relaxing policies could propel — by January 2021 — daily mortality at levels 4 to 5 times higher than what we recorded in April.”
He said that simple measures such as social distancing and ensuring more of the population wear masks could save up to 281,000 lives in Europe by February 1. Across the bloc, less than 60% of citizens were systematically wearing masks, while 95% compliance was needed, he added.
Surge in Europe outstrips US
Europe’s tally of new cases in its five most-affected countries — which together have a similar population to the US — was nearly 42% greater than the increase in the US in the week to October 13.
JHU’s seven-day rolling average of new cases in the US stood at 49,542 on October 13, compared with an average daily rise rise of 70,158 in France, the UK, Russia, Spain and the Netherlands.
The population of the five European countries is 343 million; the US population is 331 million.
France set a new record for daily coronavirus cases Thursday with 30,621 new confirmed cases in 24 hours, according to data released by the French Health Authority. That brings France’s total number of confirmed cases to 809,684. An additional 88 deaths brings fatalities to 33,125.
It comes as Paris and nine other French cities prepare for a nighttime curfew starting at midnight local time on Friday.
The curfew will be in place from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night for at least four weeks.
A series of searches took place Thursday at the homes and offices of French health minister Olivier Véran, the director of the country’s national health agency Jerome Salomon and the homes of former members of the government, including former prime minister Edouard Philippe.
The searches came as part of a judicial investigation into the management of the coronavirus crisis in France, a spokesperson for senior public prosecutor Francois Molins told CNN. The investigation into alleged “failure to combat a disaster” was opened following a number of official complaints by non-profit groups and a doctors’ collective.
According to the prosecutor’s office, searches were also conducted at the homes or offices of former health minister Agnes Buzyn and former government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye, who left the French government in a July cabinet reshuffle.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also under pressure after introducing a three-tier Covid alert system in England, emphasizing localized measures, despite calls from the opposition for a two-week “circuit breaker” national lockdown.
Leaders in Greater Manchester spoke out against plans to place the region in the “very high” Tier 3 top category.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said he and other northwest regions “unanimously oppose government plans for Tier 3 lockdowns.”
He said the plans were “flawed and unfair” and that the government was “asking us to gamble our residents’ jobs, homes and business and a large chunk of our economy on a strategy that their own experts tell them might not work.”
The Office for National Statistics estimated that one in every 240 people in England had the virus in the week from September 25 to October 1, and that the numbers infected were doubling every seven to 12 days, according to a press release from the UK’s health department.
Records smashed across Europe
Other European countries, such as Poland, Belgium and the Czech Republic, have also seen sharp increases in Covid-19 infections in recent weeks. Poland reported new cases surging to 8,099 on Thursday — a 24% increase on Wednesday’s record 6,526 cases. According to CNN’s analysis of Belgium’s figures, the rolling average rose from 3,433 new cases a day to 5,421 between October 4 and October 11.
The Czech Republic, which had managed to effectively contain the virus early on in the pandemic, broke its record for new infections for a second day running on Friday with 9,721 cases in 24 hours. It now has a higher infection rate over a 14-day notification period than any other European member state, reporting 610 cases per 100,000 people, according to figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Germany also broke its record for new coronavirus infections for a second day in a row Friday, according to the country’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute. Authorities reported 7,334 new infections in 24 hours, about 700 more than the 6,638 record set on the previous day.
Germany recorded 24 new deaths, bringing the total number to 9,734 since the pandemic started. The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care is also on the rise. Official data on Thursday showed 655 patients in intensive care units with 329 being ventilated. A week earlier only 487 had been in ICU.
Italy recorded 8,804 new infections Thursday — its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, according to figures from its health ministry.
Schools in the Italian region of Campania are to be online only for two weeks from Friday, its governor announced Thursday.
CNN’s Simon Cullen, Eva Tapiero, Martin Goillandeau, Pierre Bairin and Gaelle Fournier contributed reporting.