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11 Sep, 2020 16:36

Parts of Europe grapple with coronavirus surge, but hold off on hard lockdown

Parts of Europe grapple with coronavirus surge, but hold off on hard lockdown

Coronavirus cases are once again rising in the UK and other parts of Europe, as the continent grapples with a resurgence in the deadly virus in some areas and eyes new restrictions. But this surge has not been evenly spread.

The first week in September saw 3,200 new cases of Covid-19 recorded in England every day, up from 2,000 per day the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics. Deaths, however, are down, with only 101 coronavirus-related deaths announced the week before - a fraction of the 1,150 fatalities recorded on one day in April.

Nevertheless, Boris Johnson’s government has introduced a host of stringent new measures to curtail the spread of the illness. Social gatherings will be limited to groups of six, or 30 at weddings and funerals. Those flouting the rules face fines of between £100 and £3,200, and anyone who dares organize a house party or rave could be slapped with a £10,000 penalty. Ministers are even reportedly considering a nationwide 10pm curfew, should a second wave of infections hit in earnest.

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Johnson sold the unpopular rules as “decisive measures” necessary to “get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas.” Indeed, the rise in cases is alarming, and not just in the UK. Europe overtook the US this week as the world’s Covid-19 hotspot for new infections, with more than 27,000 new cases reported on Wednesday in the 27 EU member states plus the UK, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The US recorded 26,000.

However, these cases have not been evenly distributed, and the virus has largely ignored measures to contain it.

Spain, for example, saw its highest daily number of cases yet on Sunday, with 26,500 added to a tally of more than half a million. The jump came despite Spanish authorities having implemented one of the most draconian lockdowns in Europe. Though the government has ruled out another national lockdown, gatherings are still restricted to 10 people, and different regions have imposed their own measures in an effort to contain the spread.

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Sweden, on the other hand, never fully shut itself down. Authorities there simply advised citizens to keep each other at arm’s length and maintain good hygiene, a policy that was widely panned as too lax at the outset of the pandemic in March. However, Sweden reported only 314 new cases on Wednesday, and no sign of a second wave has been noticed since cases began to fall in July.

Neighboring Denmark, by contrast, imposed a strict lockdown in March, and saw a record 566 new cases on Monday.

Across Europe, the situation is similarly unbalanced. France has seen a Spain-like surge in infections, with a record 9,843 reported on Wednesday. Similar to Spain, France implemented a rigorous national lockdown in spring, at one point requiring citizens to carry ‘letters of explanation’ if they ventured outside their houses. Now, with cases spiking, mobile testing labs have been set up in Paris, and local lockdowns and bar closures are once again being considered.

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In Austria, a short and harsh lockdown brought cases under control in April. However, the country reported 904 infections on Wednesday, up from 76 a month earlier. In the Balkans, cases have hiked upwards in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Slovenia. Only Serbia has seen a dramatic decline in infections, since a second wave hit there in June. 

These inconsistencies can possibly be explained by discrepancies in testing. However, even in countries that have ramped up testing, infections haven’t risen equally. Sweden carried out a record number of tests last week, with only 1.2 percent coming back positive - the lowest rate since the pandemic began. France tested a record number of people in the last week in August, confirming a record 33,000 cases in that time.

One metric that has been consistent, however, is a dramatic fall in Covid-19 deaths. The fall has been attributed to more young people catching the disease in recent weeks than earlier in the outbreak, while one doctor in the UK said that the virus itself could be mutating to become less deadly but more infectious. “There is a degree of suggestion and some evidence the virus might just be getting a little bit less angry,” Dr. Ron Daniels told The Mirror last month.

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