The number of weekly coronavirus cases in Europe has exceeded those during the first peak in March, triggering a grave warning from a health chief.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of a “very serious” situation in Europe, where the weekly tally was more than 300,000 Covid-19 patients last week.
Amid second waves in countries such as Spain and France, Dr Hans Kluge, WHO’s Europe chief, said more than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10% increase in cases in the past two weeks.
Of those, seven countries have seen the number of new cases double over the same period, he added.
Strict lockdown measures resulted in a drop in infections – with an “all-time low” in June – but restrictions have been eased and cases have since been rapidly increasing in countries such as the UK, France and Spain.
Have you been affected by coronavirus? Email your story to [email protected]
Dr Kluge, a Belgian physician and surgeon, said: “We have a very serious situation unfolding before us.
“Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March.
“Last week, the region’s weekly tally exceeded 300,000 patients.
“More than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10 per cent increase in cases in the past two weeks.
“Of those, seven countries have seen newly reported cases increase more than two-fold in the same period.”
He added: “In the spring and early summer we were able to see the impact of strict lockdown measures. Our efforts, our sacrifices, paid off.
“In June cases hit an all-time low. The September case numbers, however, should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.
“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region.”
Dr Kluge said the biggest proportion of those testing positive is still people aged 25-49.
Since the start of the outbreak, there have been more than 4.8 million confirmed cases and 226,524 deaths in Europe.
In the UK, the daily number of new cases has hit its highest total since May 8. The Government reported 3,991 new positive cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 378,219.
Britain’s death toll increased by 20 to 41,684.
Referring to Europe’s figures, Dr Kluge said: “This pandemic has taken so much from us. This tells only part of the story – the impact of our mental health, economies, livelihoods and society has been monumental.”
He has called on European countries to work together to curb the spread of the virus and make sure people are getting the correct information when it comes to how they can avoid catching it or passing it on to others.
Countries must make sure they have enough hospital beds to cope with an increase in Covid-19 patients, and enough PPE for all healthcare workers in hospitals, care homes and the community, he said.
He also called for increase testing and the public to do its part, saying: “We know the basic public health measures which work, including scaling up of testing, handwashing, physical distancing, masks when physical distancing is not possible, and avoiding large gatherings.
“But we also need to be restless to update scientific knowledge, as more evidence becomes available. Take for example quarantine, as a cornerstone of our fight against Covid-19.”
Dr Kluge said: “Where the pandemic goes from here is in our hands. We have fought it back before and we can fight it back again.”
He delivered the stark warning just days after he suggested Britons and other Europeans shouldn’t fear returning to their workplaces despite the threat of Covid-19.
He told the Daily Mail that it is important for people to return to offices and get out of the house and enjoy themselves for the sake of the economy and their mental health.
He said the recent increase in cases in Britain was not surprising, and it shouldn’t stop the country from gradually opening up.
Dr Kluge said there was a danger people are “too scared” about returning to normal, and it is important for people to get out an have face-to-face contact.
He said: “It’s OK to spread fun, but not to spread the virus.
“There are ways of not doing so, so not going with mass gatherings and going instead with the physical distancing. But we have to be positive, it’s not the end of the world.”
He added: “It’s normal that if you open up, you are going to see spikes, so that’s nothing surprising.”
The expert said a number of countries have learnt how to apply restrictions in a localised, tailored way to curb the spread of the virus.
But he warned that countries must open up because lockdowns and restrictions have been “disastrous” for people’s mental health.
On Sunday, WHO reported a record one-day rise in coronavirus cases – 307,930 – that was fuelled by outbreaks in India, the US.