A second wave of coronavirus has struck Europe as Spain reimposes lockdowns, cases spike in Greece and French officials warn they could lose control at any moment.
The head of Germany’s doctors’ union has declared that the country is already in the midst of its second wave because people have flouted social distancing rules.
France’s top scientific committee has warned that while the virus is under control at the moment, it ‘could at any moment tip into a scenario that is less under control.’
And holiday destinations such as Spain, Greece and Italy – which have bravely welcomed the tourists so vital to their economies – are also fearing resurgences as the global death toll today soared over 700,000.
Finland today announced it plans to reintroduce a recommendation to work from home whenever possible just days after dropping it, due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Finnish health authorities said earlier on Wednesday that 29 new cases had been recorded over 24 hours, raising the seven-day total to 98 from 52 in the previous seven days.
‘The rise in infections gives reason to consider continuing remote working …where it is possible,’ Minister of Social Affairs and Health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen wrote on Twitter, adding she had asked for official guidelines to be updated accordingly.
The recommendation in favour of remote working had ended at the end of July.
New infections remained very low throughout June and July, allowing Finns to enjoy their summer holiday season in relative security but prompting some to flout social distancing rules.
Finland’s COVID-19 epidemic peaked in March and April but the quick introduction of containment measures including travel restrictions and the closure of schools and restaurants helped curb the number of infections.
Cases totalled 7,512, with 331 deaths, as of Wednesday.
Greece recorded 121 new cases yesterday, which is the highest daily tally since April 22, and the prime minister urged the country to maintain social distancing.
Italy – once the sickman of Europe – has managed to avoid an uptick, but two cruise ships are now quarantined in the Civitavecchia port in Rome.
Spain saw 8,500 new cases over the weekend; an all-inclusive resort in Majorca was shutdown and two towns north of Madrid have been put under strict lockdown.
In France, the Health Ministry published a worrying report from the country’s scientific committee after more than 7,000 new infections were recorded in the last week
It said that the situation was ‘under control, but precarious. We could at any moment tip into a scenario that is less under control.’
The warning came as authorities grapple with a sharp increase in fresh cases which has seen more than 7,000 new infections within the last week as well as a rise in the number of people being treated for the disease in intensive care.
The scientific committee said: ‘The short term future of the pandemic mainly lies in the hands of the population. It is highly likely that we will experience a second epidemic wave this autumn or winter.’
The statement added that the virus ‘has recently been circulating more actively, with an increased loss of distancing and barrier measures’ since France emerged from its strict two-month lockdown in May.
‘The balance is fragile and we can change course at any time to a less controlled scenario like in Spain for example,’ it said.
In Germany, Susanne Johna, head of the doctors’ union, told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper on Tuesday: ‘We are already in a second, shallow upswing.’
She said there was a danger that a longing to return to normality and a suppression of containment measures would fritter away the success Germany had achieved so far, urging people to stick to social distancing and hygiene rules and wear masks.
Europe’s biggest economy has so far withstood the pandemic with far fewer deaths than some large neighbours like France and Italy, owing to widespread testing, a well-equipped healthcare system and good adherence to social distancing.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 879 to 211,281, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday. The reported death toll rose by eight to 9,156, the tally showed.
Johna said hospitals were prepared and would make intensive care beds available to COVID-19 patients on a staggered basis, while at the same time gradually reducing the number of planned admissions to normal wards.
According to the DIVI intensive care register there are almost 21,000 intensive care beds in Germany, of which some 12,200 are currently free. As of Monday, there were 270 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, of whom 130 were being ventilated.
A survey of 3,600 people carried out by Mannheim University found that pandemic fatigue was beginning to take hold, and roughly 50 per cent of those involved now socialise several times a week, in comparison with 30 per cent in May and just 10 per cent in late March.
On Saturday, just under 20,000 people gathered in Berlin to protest against Germany’s coronavirus regulations.
Many flouted guidance on wearing masks and physical distancing during the demonstration dubbed ‘Day of Freedom’.
In Spain, a hotel in Majorca on Sunday became the first on the holiday island to close after an outbreak of coronavirus saw ten staff fall sick.
The Club Cala Barca is not accepting any new bookings and closed its doors for disinfection over the weekend after the last guests left.
The outbreak was first detected last week when a worker fell ill, and 192 more tests uncovered another nine infections among staff and four more among their relatives.
Bosses say no guests are showing symptoms and they do not have any plans to test visitors, since all staff are required to socially distance.
It comes as Spain announced 8,500 new coronavirus cases across the country at the weekend – its largest jump in three months – bringing its total to 297,054.
Spain is the worst-hit, with many of its neighbours including Italy, Germany and the UK, recommending against travelling there.
Elsewhere in Spain, two towns are back in lockdown after a coronavirus outbreak at a poultry farm left 49 workers infected.
Around 10,000 people living in Iscar and Pedrajas, 80 miles north of Madrid, were told to remain in their homes for all-but essential business, starting this week.
Extra police and a helicopter have been drafted in to stop people leaving their homes for non-essential business.
Rule-breakers will face on-the-spot fines as mayors of both towns accused people of not taking advice seriously, including failing to wear masks and socially distance.
The outbreak started after a worker at a local slaughterhouse fell ill and was tested positive.
Trackers traced numerous contacts, including other workers who had travelled in the same car, family members and friends and other people with whom they had mixed.
So far, 22 of the 49 positives work at the slaughterhouse.
The new lockdown will remain in place for 14 days, during which time nobody will be allowed to leave the towns but will be allowed to travel between them.
Meanwhile in Lleida, 80 miles west of Barcelona, a business has been forcibly closed after inspectors discovered 19 staff were still working despite having the virus.
Owners of the business had initially refused to comply with regulations meaning staff had to be tested.
They eventually agreed, but insisted that only staff who volunteered for the tests should have them. Ninety people took the tests, and 38 tested positive.
When inspectors returned for a follow-up six days later, they found that 19 people were still at work, despite the positive test result.
Officials did not name the affected business, or say what work the staff were doing.