(CN) – With more than 2,600 new deaths over the weekend, the coronavirus pandemic is intensifying in Europe and the number of deaths is on track to surpass 10,000 in what many are calling Europe’s worst crisis since World War II.
Italy reported an astonishing 793 more deaths on Saturday – a new one-day record – and 651 deaths on Sunday. By Monday evening, 601 more people had died of the virus, bringing the country’s death toll to 6,077.
Spain, too, reported a sharp increase in deaths and confirmed cases, bringing its death toll to 2,182. France and the United Kingdom are seeing deaths climb too, 674 in France and 289 in the U.K.
There are more than 367,000 confirmed cases worldwide and 16,097 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
“The pandemic is accelerating,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, in a news conference on Monday.
“It took 67 days to reach 100,000 cases, seven days for the next 100,000, and four days for the third 100,000 cases,” he said. “But we’re not prisoners to statistics. We’re not helpless bystanders. We can change the trajectory of this pandemic.”
He urged the world to go on the offensive by aggressively pursuing mass testing to find infected people, carefully treating the sick and rigorously tracking down people who might be infected and not know it.
“What matters most is what we do,” he said. “To win, we need to attack the virus with aggressive and targeted tactics.”
He said measures like those now in effect in the United States and Europe – closing down schools and businesses, forcing people to stay at home and keep away from each, urging people to be more hygienic – are defensive tactics and not sufficient to defeat the deadly virus known as Covid-19.
Experts say the pandemic’s peak in Europe is likely still weeks away. As of Monday, more than 9,200 people had died from the disease.
Scenes of deserted streets and monumental squares in Europe’s capitals, the retreat of millions of people into the safety of their homes, the shutdown of businesses and factories and the rising death toll are leading many to compare what’s happening to World War II.
“The correct metaphor for this crisis is not the Global Financial Crisis, but World War II,” Branko Milanovic, a respected Serbian-American socio-economist, said on Twitter.
On Sunday, Spanish Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called on the European Union to enact a “Marshall Plan” to recover from this crisis. The Marshall Plan was a U.S.-led reconstruction strategy that poured funds into Europe after the devastation caused by World War II.
“This is a crisis that is affecting all of the EU,” Sanchez said. “We need to articulate a grand Marshall Plan of reconstruction.”
For now, the focus is on stopping the spread of the new coronavirus, which first emerged in China in December.
With the numbers of new confirmed cases and deaths still extremely high, Italy is trying to contain the spread by enforcing an even stricter lockdown and shutting down all but the most essential businesses and industries. In one region, Emilia-Romagna, authorities are hoping to stay ahead of the virus through mass testing. There is hope that Italy may reach a peak in infections this week and see a slow decline in new cases.
As grim as Monday’s report from Italy on new deaths and infections was, it nonetheless showed the outbreak may be leveling off. Authorities believe the virus is spreading less because of the lockdown.
“What we’re seeing now is a result of what we did at the beginning of March,” said Silvio Brusaferro, the president of Italy’s National Health Institute, at a news conference. He said the downward trend appeared to be real, but he said it was too early to be certain.
A big unknown in Italy is whether the virus may spike in the poorer southern parts of the country after tens of thousands of Italians fled the north and headed south. Many southern Italians work in the wealthier industrial north.
Even once the number of infections falls drastically, Brusaferro said Italy will need to look at how to contain the disease for the long term. He suggested Italy will have to continue restricting movement, keeping people away from each other and finding new ways to test people for the virus until it is no longer a threat.
“The best solution is to have an immune population,” Brusaferro said. But he said the virus may only be held in check in Italy once enough people around the world are immune to it. This could come about through mass vaccination but also if a sizable majority of people are infected and build up antibodies against the virus.
There are encouraging signs in Germany too about a possible calming of the outbreak there. Lothar Wieler, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, said the exponential upward curve of infections in Germany may be leveling off. So far, Germany has been something of an outlier because it has found a lot of people infected with the virus (29,056) but reported relatively few deaths, 118.
Despite reporting far fewer cases than Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom were also moving toward lockdowns, especially after a weekend that saw many people enjoying the outdoors together and not appearing to heed calls to stay indoors.
On Monday evening, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed all of the U.K. in an effective lockdown, telling Britons they faced fines for being in public without a good reason. He said people can only leave their homes for necessities, such as buying food or going to work, and he banned gatherings of more than two people, excluding funerals.
“No prime minister wants to enact measures like this,” he said. “I know the damage that this disruption is doing and will do to people’s lives, to their businesses and to their jobs.”
The U.K., like other European countries, is promising to help workers and businesses to get through this crisis by offering direct payments and other aid.
On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she was going into quarantine after a doctor she recently saw tested positive for the coronavirus.
Merkel, who is 65, has been Germany’s chancellor since 2005 and she is considered Europe’s most important politician. There is no indication she has the virus and she will work from home.
Before heading into quarantine, Merkel announced new measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, including closing many nonessential businesses such as restaurants and cafes.
The economic hit to Europe is going to be massive and the EU and member states have already approved huge stimulus packages. More measures to support businesses and workers are expected to be announced soon. The European Central Bank is weighing options to extend more credit to countries hit hard by the crisis.
Europe has found itself dangerously unprepared for a pandemic with a lack of medical supplies, intensive care units, protective gear and medical staff. The disaster is giving rise to a wave of aid, support and solidarity.
On Monday, WHO announced a new initiative to spread a global message to “kick out” the coronavirus by joining forces with FIFA, the world soccer association. Some of the world’s best soccer players are being employed to tell people around the world to take basic precautions against the virus and heed the warnings of experts.
In Germany, thousands of hackers got together in a mass hackathon to come up with software ideas for solving problems caused by coronavirus, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported. The German government says it will fund good ideas that come out of the experiment, which could include finding ways to track the virus, helping hospitals talk to each other and getting food to homeless people.
Luxury fashion brands – including Balenciaga, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent – are beginning to make protective equipment for medical workers, such as face masks and medical coats.
Italy is receiving help from Cuba, Russia and China in the form of protective gear, medical equipment and medics. On Monday, the Cuban news agency, the Prensa Latina, reported that Cuba sent a team of more than 50 doctors, nurses and logistics specialists. Meanwhile, on Monday two coronavirus patients were flown from Italy to Germany for treatment.
The aid is needed as an increasing number of doctors and nurses are getting sick and even dying after becoming infected with the virus. Medical staff are complaining they are not adequately protected.
Milan’s Oglio Po hospital has said 25 out of its 90 doctors have contracted the virus and that a fifth of its staff has tested positive.
Italy’s National Health Institute reports that about 4,824 medical workers have tested positive since the outbreak began. That amounts to about 9% of all the people who’ve tested positive in Italy’s outbreak.
In France, media reported that three doctors have died after contracting the coronavirus.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.