By Katie Fisher
Whether you dub it ‘the coronavirus comeback’ or the ‘second wave’, there is no denying that most of Europe is seeing a resurgence of coronavirus cases. In France and Spain, new COVID cases soared in August, and many other European countries are not far behind. Germany, Greece and Italy are seeing a slow but steady rise. We are now faced with many doubts: Are we ready for the next wave of the pandemic? Have we learned from experience? Will Europe be able to cope?
In the EU and the UK, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, 158,134 people have so far died from coronavirus according to ECDC data. The UK has seen the most deaths in Europe, with 35,341, followed by Italy and France (32,169 and 28,022 respectively).
Back in January, the ECDC warned governments of the extremely contagious nature of the virus, advising that they strengthen the capacities of their health care services. The fear at the time was that health services would become overwhelmed by the surge in sick patients requiring a bed. Shortly after, this fear became a reality, first in Northern Italy and then Spain. Despite seeing how the healthcare systems were suffering, much of the rest of Europe failed to prepare for what was to come adequately. The hospital preparedness in the UK and France was not enough to face the return of skiing vacationers in the first week of March, a catalyst for the spread of Covid-19 into Europe.
However hopeless the situation may have presented itself, Europe undoubtedly tackled it head-on. The initial success of Europe in dealing with the virus showed impressive resilience and adaptability. The capital of Italy’s worst-hit Lombardy region, Bergamo, was initially overwhelmed by the effects of the virus. In March, the
crematoria couldn’t cope with the spike in deaths, and army trucks were called in for support, transporting the corpses to other cities. However, the rapid responses untaken by the region proved triumphant – announcing on the 24th May, zero coronavirus deaths across the region. The success seemed to extend itself through the European Union, and some believed the battle was nearly won. For comparison, The EU (including the United Kingdom) saw fewer than 5000 new coronavirus cases daily in early July. Whereas, during the same period, the United States, with less than three-quarters of the population, saw 50,000. From a global perspective, Europeans were at the forefront of defeating the virus. Many of us were able to put the pandemic to one side and enjoy a relatively normal summer. Relief-seeking travellers began to use ‘holiday corridors’ to soak up the Mediterranean sun.
And yet, virologists are warning that we risk of gambling away our success. Most of Europe is seeing a resurgence. Countries like Croatia, Greece and Malta who saw few cases at the height of the outbreak have recently faced far higher numbers than during the first wave. Spain is also reporting close to 10,000 cases a day, more than it had in Spring. Madrid and Barcelona, which originally suffered terribly are seeing high-rising figures. France recently reported the highest number ever recorded, 7,379 new cases on 28th August. French Health Minister Olivier Veran has called for France to remain “extremely vigilant” and brace for “an increase in the number of severe cases and in the number of people hospitalised and in ICU units”. The Netherlands registered 914 new cases last Tuesday, the highest number seen since April. In Germany, numbers are still comparatively low but continue to rise steadily.
Belgium, Italy and the UK – some of Europe’s worst-hit countries – are also seeing a resurgence but, so far at least, nothing like March and
April. The British Prime Minister called for renewed caution, saying “we now face, I’m afraid, the threat of a second wave in other parts of Europe and we just have to be vigilant, and we have to be very mindful.” Currently, the rising case numbers have not met those seen in the first wave partly because of daily testing.
While Europe initially rose to the challenge, the second wave may point to show that measures were relaxed too quickly. Others blame people’s wearying enthusiasm to stay vigilant and stick to regulations. The reopening of schools and workplaces in many countries also contributed to climbing figures. However, in much of Europe, the resurgence is driven by young people partying and forgetting about social distancing measures. Health officials around the continent have also pointed towards Spanish and Greek party islands as a possible virus spreader.
Whatever the cause may be, the question becomes, will Europe be able to cope? Countries are positively better prepared this time around and have a greater understanding of viral spread. Widespread testing helps to track the movements of the virus. Face masks are now universally recommended and, unlike during the outbreak, available internationally. Use of contact tracers in restaurants and bars around many EU countries and the development of apps has further helped tracing efforts.
Another fear in EU preparedness for this next wave is that doctors are still trying to work out the effects the coming flu season will have on the pandemic. As Europe faces its first COVID winter, an advantage over the United States is much less controversy surrounding coronavirus control measures. While protests against social distancing and masks have broken out in many European cities, including Berlin, London and Paris, they are on a much smaller scale. Overall acceptance for health and safety regulations is far higher.
Recent days have seen new cases decline in Germany and Sweden and remain level in Belgium, Italy and Ireland. Croatia, however, continues to have a clear rising trend. While only time will tell how COVID 19 will continue to adapt and affect our lives, Europe is currently facing a second wave. It is clear that the coronavirus is well adapted to humans, and the fight against it is far from won.