What’s behind the “worrying” spike in coronavirus cases in Europe

Una mujer mira postales de Bruselas en un escaparate

Several European countries are on alert due to a dramatic increase in the number of new coronavirus infections. What are the reasons?

Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and several other European countries are on alert due to a drastic increase in the number of new coronavirus infections.

According to data collected on August 14 by Johns Hopkins University, in the last week 7,242 new infections were reported in Germany; 12,786 in France; 5,804 cases in the UK; 4,941 in the Netherlands, and 4,175 in Belgium.

European authorities are taking steps to try to reduce the number of infections.

Germany warned its citizens not to make non-essential trips to Spain, one of the countries hardest hit by the new spike in cases.

The UK imposed 14-day quarantines on travelers from various countries, including France, the Netherlands, and Spain.

Belgium ordered the mandatory use of masks in public places in Brussels, the capital. And Spain decreed this Friday the closure of discos and bars due to the rebound of the infection.

But, what is the reason for this increase in cases?

Youth contagion

“There are several reasons why we are seeing resurgence throughout the European region,” explains the doctor to BBC Mundo. Richard Peabody, an epidemiologist with the Office for Europe of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“These include relaxation in social distancing measures, and evidence suggests that there are outbreaks in some countries that could be driven in part because young people have lowered their guard this summer (boreal) ”.

“Although we observe differences in the region, we have seen that now more young people are reported among the cases of COVID-19,” he adds.

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Indeed, this seems to be the case in Spain, where 27,479 new cases of the infection were reported in the last week.

“The large proportion of cases in Spain are young people who have less severe expressions of the disease and who are asymptomatic,” Dr. Daniel López-Acuña, a public health expert and professor at the Andalusian School of Public Health, tells BBC Mundo. in Spain.

“This can lead to the false impression that there really isn’t much of a problem because these cases don’t require many hospitalizations and there aren’t severe cases.”

“But we must take into account that young people, even if they do not develop severe cases, can be transmitters of the disease, infecting older people and amplifying the affected nucleus and increasing severe cases,” says the expert.

Experts say that a possible explanation for this trend is an increase in risky behaviors among youth after quarantines were lifted.

In Spain, for example, a large proportion of new cases have been linked to nightlife situations, youth parties, and the coexistence of agglomerations.

More mobilization, less distancing

Another factor that appears to be driving this spike in infections in Europe is the increased mobility of people who are on vacation or returning from them.

“Since the quarantines were lifted and the borders of the countries of the European economic area were opened, with the summer culture of Europe, this has meant a great movement of people,” explains Dr. López-Acuña.

New outbreaks of cases are inevitable until a sufficient threshold of protection is reached in the population.

“Tourism, both internal and external, has led to an increase in mobility and this mobility includes asymptomatic cases and an increase in the transmission of the disease.”

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There is also the fact that after the removal of quarantines in the region, social distancing measures have, in many cases, no longer been respected.

“The relaxation in social distancing measures is one of the reasons why we are seeing a resurgence of cases throughout the European region,” explains WHO expert Richard Peabody.

“Physical distancing is part of a package of measures to stop transmission and save lives. But physical distancing alone is not enough; you need to wear a mask where recommended, avoid crowds and closed areas, and wash your hands frequently, ”he recalls.

More tests, more cases

Although policies on diagnostic testing vary from country to country, many are now conducting more testing on their population and this has led to an increase in the number of positive cases.

New COVID-19 outbreaks are the inevitable consequence of displacement.

“Indeed, more PCR tests (an acronym for polymerase chain reaction) are being carried out and, in Spain, the autonomous regions that have done the most PCR have better controlled the outbreaks,” says Dr. Daniel López-Acuña.

“Here is a phenomenon that can be paradoxical: on the one hand, more PCR must be done to be able to detect and isolate asymptomatic cases so that they do not transmit the disease, and by doing more PCR, it is clear that more positive cases will be diagnosed.”

Experts agree that what Europe is experiencing is not a second wave of the pandemic, but rather rebounds of the first wave.

“These spikes occur because the virus continues to circulate, it has not disappeared,” the professor at the Andalusian School of Public Health tells BBC Mundo.

“The virus generates many asymptomatic infections and this is transmitting the disease in the form of isolated outbreaks, which makes it very difficult to combat and completely eliminate the transmission” of the coronavirus, he adds.

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For his part, the WHO expert, Richard Peabody, assures that we should not speak of the second wave of the pandemic. It is, he says, “a pandemic that is ongoing ”.

“The key questions we must ask are: do we know if the virus is circulating in the country? How much pressure are we putting on the virus? Do we understand which populations are affected? And do we have the necessary control measures to maintain pressure on the virus?

Belgium is one of the countries concerned by the increase in cases.

The key, experts say, is to continue to track and isolate outbreaks of the infection and maintain social distancing measures.

The WHO indicates that the risk of a serious escalation of COVID-19 is “moderate” for countries that continue to implement control measures, including social distancing and sufficient capacity for infection testing, detection, and tracking.

But countries that do not implement such measures, the organization says, run a risk “very high” of a serious escalation of the disease.

For now, this rebound in coronavirus infection outbreaks will remain part of the “new normal”explains Dr. Daniel López-Acuña.

“Outbreaks are already being seen in all European countries, regardless of the measures or travel restrictions that are established.”

“This is practically normal behavior of the virus infection in the new normal.”

The key, says the expert, “is to adequately control the outbreaks and prevent them from becoming community transmission.”

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