Lesson not learned: Europe unprepared as 2nd virus wave hits
ROM (AP) - Europe's second wave of coronavirus infections began long before the start of the flu season. The intensive care units are filling up again and the bars are closing. According to authorities, making matters worse is a common case of "COVID fatigue".
Record high-quality daily infections in several Eastern European countries and severe setbacks in the severely affected West have made it clear that Europe never really smashed the COVID-19 curve after the spring blockades as hoped.
Spain declared a state of emergency for Madrid this week amid mounting tensions between local and national authorities over virus containment measures. Germany offered soldiers to help trace contacts in newly flaming hotspots. Italy has mandated masks in the open air and warned that for the first time since the European epicenter of the pandemic, the health system faced "significant critical problems" as hospitals filled.
The Czech Republic's “Farewell Covid” party in June, where thousands of Prague residents dined al fresco at a 500-meter table across Charles Bridge to celebrate their victory over the virus, now seems that the country has the highest land to be painfully naïve per capita infection rate on the continent at 398 per 100,000 people.
"I have to say clearly that the situation is not good," said Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek this week.
Epidemiologists and local residents are pointing fingers at governments for not using the summer break to adequately prepare for the expected fall attack, as the tests and ICU staff are still critical. In Rome, people waited 8 to 10 hours in line to be tested this week while frontline doctors from Kiev to Paris again moved long, short shifts in crowded wards.
"When the alert was lifted, it was time to invest in prevention, but it has not yet been done," lamented Margarita del Val, viral immunology expert at Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center, part of the Spanish cutting-edge research institute, CSIC.
"We are in the autumn wave without having solved the summer wave," she said in an online forum this week.
Tensions are mounting in cities where new restrictions have been imposed. Hundreds of Romanian hotel professionals protested this week after Bucharest closed the capital's interior restaurants, theaters and dance halls again.
"We were closed for six months, the restaurants didn't work, and yet the number of cases was rising," said Moaghin Marius Ciprian, owner of the popular Grivita Pub n Grill, who attended the protest. “I'm not a specialist, but I'm not stupid either. But from my point of view we are not responsible for this pandemic. "
With infections on the rise in many European countries, some - including Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain, and France - are diagnosing more new cases per capita every day than the United States. This comes from the 7-day averages of the data stored by Johns from Hopkins University. France reported a record of 20,300 new infections on Friday with around 70 million inhabitants.
Experts say the high rate of infection in Europe is in large part due to advanced testing, which produces far more asymptomatic positive results than the first wave, when only sick people could get a test.
Even so, the trend is alarming as the flu season has not even started, schools are open for personal study, and cold weather has not yet driven Europeans indoors, where infections can spread more easily.
"98,000 cases have been reported in the last 24 hours. This is a new regional record. This is very alarming," said Robb Butler, Executive Director of the WHO Regional Office for Europe. Part of this is due to increased testing. "It is also worrying in terms of virus resurgence. "
It is also worrying as many countries still lack the testing, tracking and treatment capacity to deal with a second wave of pandemics when the first wave never really ended, said Dr. Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“You should have used the time to put really robust search, test, track, and isolate support systems in place. Not everyone did it, ”McKee said. "Had they done that, they would have been able to identify outbreaks as they showed up and really looked for the sources."
Even Italy is struggling after receiving international praise for taming the virus with a strict 10-week lockdown and embarking on a careful, conservative reopening and aggressive screening and contact tracing effort as summer vacationers created new clusters. Anesthesiologists have warned that intensive care units in Lazio around Rome and Campania around Naples could be saturated within a month without new restrictions.
Campania currently has only 671 hospital beds for COVID-19, and 530 are already occupied, said Campania Governor Vincenzo De Luca. Half of the 100 intensive virus beds in Campania are now operational.
At the moment the situation is manageable. "But when we have 1,000 infections a day and only 200 people are cured, this is a lockdown." Sure? ”He warned this week.
The alarm in the intensive care unit has already been triggered in France, where workers at the public hospital in Paris protested this week to demand more government investment in the occupation of intensive care units.
"We did not learn the lessons from the first wave," said Dr. Gilles Pialoux, head of the infectious diseases department at Tenon Hospital in Paris, told BFM television. "We're running after the epidemic instead of overcoming it."
There is some good news, however. Dr. Luis Izquierdo, deputy director of emergencies at Severo Ochoa Hospital in Madrid, said at least now that doctors know which therapies work. During the peak of the epidemic in March and April, doctors in hardest-hit Spain and Italy tossed every drug they could think of with limited success on patients - hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir, ritonavir.
"Now we rarely use these drugs because they have little effect," he said. "With that in mind, we won because we know so much more now."
Getting medical treatment for the virus is only half the battle, however. Public health officials are now facing an increase in anti-mask protests, virus negationists and residents who are simply fed up with keeping their distance and not hugging their loved ones.
The WHO this week switched the course of medical advice on how to fight infections to psychological advice on how to get virus-weary Europeans to remain vigilant in the face of "COVID fatigue" sweeping the continent.
“Fatigue is absolutely natural. It is to be expected where we will have these ongoing crises or emergencies, ”said the WHO butler.
The WHO this week gave governments new advice to consider more social, psychological and emotional factors when deciding on bans, closings or other restrictions - a nod to some experts who say the mental health of bans is worse than that Virus itself.
These data, Butler said, "will become more important because we need to understand what restrictions we can put in place, which are maintained, complied with, and acceptable to our populations."
AP reporters across Europe have contributed.
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