LONDON – Coronavirus lockdown restrictions in Europe appear to be paying off as the number of weekly cases has decreased, the World Health Organization said, offering a glimmer of hope before Christmas as cases skyrocket in the US.
Restrictions, from school and shop closings to limited social interactions, have resulted in a slight decrease in weekly cases of Covid-19 from 2 million to 1.8 million in the past two weeks, according to the WHO.
“It’s a small signal, but it’s still a signal,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe, Hans Kluge, in one Explanation Thursday.
He said future bans would be “preventable” if more people wore masks and used contact tracing technology.
It also offered a glimmer of hope for those planning to spend the Christmas vacation with loved ones.
“I firmly believe that there is more hope than despair,” he said. Added: “It’s going to be a different Christmas, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a merry one.”
In total, Europe has registered 15.9 million Covid-19 cases and just over 359,000 deaths WHO data, 28 percent of the world’s cases.
But the continent is certainly not out of the woods with someone dying from Covid-19 every 17 seconds, he said. Intensive care units, especially in France and Switzerland, are almost fully utilized.
In the UK, where the coronavirus death toll is highest in Europe, England is in the midst of a second national lockdown, but “there are encouraging signs that the numbers are leveling off,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Friday. “The lock we introduced earlier this month is working.”
In France, where people have to stay at home except to shop for essential goods or to exercise an hour a day, there are signs that the national lockdown is working.
Health ministry data revealed 21,150 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, compared to 28,383 on Wednesday, while pressure on the hospital system also eased. The total number of confirmed French coronavirus cases is now more than 2 million.
“The virus is circulating less than before the lockdown. We must not disappoint our efforts,” French Health Minister Olivier Veran said at a press conference on Thursday.
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The slight improvement in Europe is due to the fact that cases in the US continue to increase. According to NBC News, 11,774,814 cases and 253,337 deaths have been confirmed. Both numbers are the highest in the world.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel during next week’s Thanksgiving holiday to help contain the spread of the virus.
“We are alarmed by the exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” said CDC official Henry Walke.
California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday imposed a home order and curfew on social gatherings and other non-essential activities to contain the alarming surge in infections. While a similar 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. curfew was issued Thursday in Ohio and will remain in effect for the next 21 days, Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, announced it separately.
New York City’s public school system, the largest in the country, halted classes due to rising infection rates and caused some dismay among parents when Mayor Bill de Blasio said the measures were necessary and temporary.
However, the good news of vaccine breakthroughs from drug makers Pfizer and Moderna, each separately showing over 90 percent efficacy this week, has cheered many.
“Although vaccines will not stop Covid-19 completely,” said WHO’s Kluge, “they are a great hope in the war against this virus.”
Reuters contributed to this report.