Germany is a perfect example; its center for disease control, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), on Monday said that a recent spike in cases was “very disturbing.”
The country was held up as a poster-child for how to handle the pandemic, with its rapid response, mass testing capacity, and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s calm and clear communication all winning praise.
While more than 4% of patients with coronavirus died worldwide in March, Germany’s Covid-19 mortality rate was just 0.4% — despite a high number of reported cases.
Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said Monday that the figures were a “cause for concern,” and that in order to tackle the pandemic in the fall, cases need to be kept “well under 500” a day during the summer.
The government is now offering free tests to residents of the Bavarian town of Mamming, southern Germany, which is facing an outbreak among seasonal workers on a vegetable farm. Workers at other Bavarian farms will also be tested.
Spreading across Europe
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Tuesday that there were signs of a second wave in Europe.
Speaking to journalists about the UK’s decision to impose a quarantine on people returning from Spain, Johnson said: “What we had to do is take swift and decisive action where we think that the risk is starting to bubble up again.”
“Let’s be absolutely clear about what’s happening in Europe, amongst some of our European friends, I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic,” Johnson said.
The Director of the Spanish Center for Health Emergencies, Fernando Simon, said there was a high number of cases in Aragon and Catalonia, but he did not think it was a second wave. The UK government reported 685 new cases on Monday, with cases remaining relatively stable in recent weeks.
Germany and France have both announced plans to test passengers from “high risk” countries on arrival — including those from the United States — in addition to compulsory 14-day quarantines.
France, which is offering free tests, has seen new daily cases creep back to the same level as when its lockdown lifted on May 11, Health Minister Olivier Veran told the French newspaper Le Parisien Sunday.
Veran said the country was not yet in a second wave of the pandemic, but warned that cases were rising sharply — exceeding 1,000 in 24 hours last week.
On Friday, the French Health Ministry said the “R” rate had risen to 1.3 and warned that “the virus is circulating throughout the country.”
He called on people to greatly reduce social contact, fearing “a detrimental relaxation in behavior and the strong potential for the spread of the virus in the territory.”
Reinstating strict rules
From Wednesday, social bubble sizes will be reduced from 15 to just five people, gatherings will be capped at 10, and stores will reinstate earlier rules which limited people to 30 minutes solo shopping.
Contact tracing will be reinforced in higher risk situations. Belgium also made masks compulsory in outdoor markets and busy shopping areas in addition to indoor spaces.
“These measures are not advice, they are orders,” Wilmes said, according to the spokeswoman, acknowledging that this strengthening of the rules was a “hard blow for our morale, but we’d prefer to take these measures today than to regret it tomorrow.”
As for Italy, once the epicenter of the pandemic, the country’s health minister said last week that it was now “out of the storm,” although it has some way to go to eliminate the virus.
The Italian government on Friday introduced a new quarantine order for travelers entering the country from Romania or Bulgaria. “The virus is not defeated and continues to circulate. This is why caution and attention are still needed,” said Health Minister Roberto Speranza.
“The international situation is worrying, we are in the worst moment of the epidemic in the world,” said Speranza, cautioning that the crisis will only “be a thing of the past” when a successful vaccine is developed.
The evidence shows that the bluntest instruments of control are working against the virus — such as lockdowns, quarantines, travel bans and social distancing — and these may be humanity’s most reliable tools until a vaccine is found and distributed.
Whether a more nuanced approach can work will soon become clear, as countries fumble to find the most effective and least punitive defenses against further waves of infection.
CNN’s Fred Pleitgen, Nina Avramova, Alexander Durie, Pierre Buet, Nadine Schmidt, Duarte Mendonca, Pierre Bairin, Sharon Braithwaite, Valentina Di Donato and Nicole Ruotolo contributed reporting.