Will the second wave of Covid-19 cases in Europe mean a second death toll?

Europe’s hospitals are now better equipped to treat Covid-19. Measures such as social distancing and wearing masks are becoming the norm and the latest spread of the infection has been primarily among young people, who are less likely to die if they contract the virus.

However, colder weather is starting to emerge and flu season is approaching. The infection spreads to the elderly, and there are signs that people are tired of adhering to the restrictions.

“Obviously, we don’t really have any ways to stop Covid from turning around, other than lockdowns or social distancing measures and so on; we don’t have a vaccine yet,” Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, told CNN that.

While the deaths are not expected to reach the levels seen in the first wave, Head added: “We will see a large spread of cases, and we will see a lot of hospitalizations, and a lot of burdens on our health services.

There will also be a large number of dead. “

From small to large

Coronavirus cases reported across Europe reached a record high of 52,418 compared to an average of seven days on Tuesday, according to CNN’s analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. But only 556 new deaths were reported, compared to an increase of 4,134 daily deaths (out of 31,852 cases) from the seven-day average on April 10.

This compares to an average of seven days of 44,547 cases and 722 deaths on Tuesday in North America, which has a population of 366 million, compared to 750 million in Europe.

Hospitals are now better able to diagnose and treat the virus, which means death rates for ICU patients in some European countries have fallen from around 50% during the spring to around 20%, according to Head’s estimates.

But Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta, Romania and Spain have all seen continuous increases in the death rate.
In the first week of September, the largest percentage of new cases were between the ages of 25-49, according to WHO’s director for Europe, Hans Kluge. But there was also a rise in cases in the older age group, between the ages of 50 and 79.

Head warned that the slight increase in cases “will at some point translate into infections among the elderly who have higher death rates.”

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“We are seeing an increase in case rates among the elderly and people at risk again in all European countries,” he said. “It’s a very predictable pattern. In fact, all over the UK, France or Spain, we saw the younger population affected, and then about four to six weeks later … we started seeing the elderly getting infected.”

The final stage of the Tour de France to compete with Paris & # 39; The Champs Elysees on Sunday.

Head added that more cases in the community means more opportunities for the virus to reach institutions like care homes, with “a significant increase in the prevalence of care homes here in the UK, over the past month or so.”

A burden on hospitals

Head said the arrival of flu season is also a “major concern” because of the potential burden on health services. France, which recorded its highest daily rise in the number of cases of 13,498 last Saturday, saw the number of people in intensive care rise 25% last week.
Mortality is not the only problem. The pressure on hospitals is also increasing due to the number of “long-distance travelers” who are suffering negative effects from the Corona virus more than a month after their illness. “Even in younger people, we still see about 10 to 20% with longer-term consequences beyond the initial infection,” Head said.
People are sitting outside in Chinatown, central London, on Saturday. The United Kingdom has imposed a curfew at 10 pm on bars and restaurants.

He said that this means “more pressure on health services over the next few months, and indeed for years to come.”

Peter Drobak, a global health physician and director of the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford, told CNN it would be “irresponsible” if Europe allowed the death rate to return to April levels.

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He said that while “we haven’t detected any seasonal patterns with this particular virus,” the real risk is that cold weather may force people to return to their homes, where transmission is more likely.

While most countries now have greater testing capacity, Drobak said that “the increased testing does not explain the increase in cases we see in most settings” given that we are also seeing a higher percentage of tests come back positive.

“It is clear that we are losing control of this,” he said.

“We know enough about the behavior of the virus – how it is transmitted, how to control it, how to treat it when people are infected – we must be able to make sure that the second wave of infection is not devastatingly large, because in the end this is what will lead to more deaths. When health systems start to collapse. “

‘The perfect storm’

The approach to the second wave of infection differs across Europe. Leaders are trying to balance protecting public health with avoiding the catastrophic economic damage from national lockdowns.

Spain reported 14,389 daily record cases last Friday. In Madrid, which accounts for a third of its cases, residents of 37 districts are only allowed to leave their homes to go to work or school or for medical reasons, and parks and playgrounds have been closed. from Monday.

Military tents were set up for hospital patients at Gomes First Military Hospital in Madrid, Spain, on Friday.

The United Kingdom, which reported the highest number of cases since April on Wednesday, has restricted gatherings to six people and will close bars and restaurants at 10 pm. The Czech Republic, which reported a record number of coronavirus infections on Friday, reintroduced requirements for indoor masks earlier this. Month.

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“The bottom line is that the second wave is already present in many countries in Europe,” said Drubak. “Our actions in the next two weeks, and throughout the winter, will be crucial to stop the spread of the disease, but if we don’t deal with it soon, especially in places like the UK, Spain and France right now, we will definitely see an increase in deaths.”

A lab assistant arranges samples for Covid-19 tests at a lab in Neuilly-sur-Seine, outside Paris, on September 15th.

Drobak said Europe needs to “flatten the curve” again, with social distancing and hygiene measures as well as robust testing and contact tracing.

He believes it is “unlikely” that countries will revert to full national lockdowns that were a common approach in the spring, in part due to popular resistance or fatigue with restrictions. “I think it will be difficult to get political and public support for that. I think it will be difficult to implement and people are tired,” he said.

“In many ways, we think winter can be a perfect storm. That’s why I had hoped we could make much better use of the summer, to really crush the virus and make sure we’re in a better position for it.”

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