(CN) — Deaths are surging once again across Europe as the coronavirus pandemic overwhelms health systems and the region records more than 4,000 new deaths each day, the highest in the world.
Since the start of its coronavirus outbreak in February, the death toll in Europe has surpassed 312,000 and more than 13 million Europeans have been found infected with the virus. Now, the virus is raging again after Europe lifted national lockdowns and enjoyed a modestly carefree summer that helped reboot the economy. Europe accounts for about half of the world's new deaths and it's gone back into crippling lockdowns.
Globally, more than 1.3 million people have died after contracting Covid-19, the disease linked to the novel coronavirus. The Americas has reported the most deaths with more than 656,000 fatalities caused by Covid-19 and the region continues to report high death counts and hundreds of thousands of new infections each day.
In Europe, deaths continue to mount by the hundreds in those nations that have suffered the most since the start of the pandemic: the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Spain and Russia. Earlier this week, the official death toll passed 50,000 in the U.K., the highest in Europe. However, smaller nations – the Czech Republic, Belgium, Slovenia and Switzerland– are recording the highest mortality rates per capita. In Czechia, medical students have been called in to help at hospitals and the army is tackling the pandemic in Slovenia and Switzerland.
In recent days, Italy has once again become Europe's deadly hot spot. Italy was the first nation in Europe to see a major outbreak in February and it ordered the world's first national lockdown in March to contain the virus.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Italy reported more than 600 new deaths on both days and on Friday it reported 550 new deaths, bringing its total death count to about 44,000.
But unlike in the spring, Italy is discovering infections up and down the peninsula, sparking alarm in its poorer southern regions.
In the spring, southern Italy was largely spared the horrors witnessed in northern Italy when hospitals filled up with patients gasping for breath and the sound of ambulance sirens was heard throughout the day in the hardest-hit places. Now, fears about southern Italy's hospitals being less equipped to handle the pandemic are coming true.
“There are images coming from Campania that are horrible,” said Luigi di Maio, Italy's foreign minister, on social media. He is from a town near Naples, the capital of the Campania region. He said the region's health system was collapsing.
He referred to videos shared on social media. In one video, he said, a person was seen lying dead inside a hospital bathroom; in others, patients were seen overwhelming hospital wards.
Last weekend, nurses at one hospital provided oxygen treatment to people sitting in their cars in a parking lot. There were reports of people in Campania dying in ambulances that had nowhere to go. News media reported one 78-year-old woman in Naples waited for 26 hours in an ambulance before she was admitted to a hospital.
Similar reports came in from other parts of Italy, where ambulances reportedly were queuing up outside hospitals due to a lack of available beds.
“We are very close to not keeping up. I cannot say when we will reach the limit, but that day is not far off,” Dr, Luca Cabrini, the head of an intensive care ward at Varese’s Circolo Hospital, told the Associated Press.
Elsewhere in Europe there are signs that tough restrictions – including banning large gatherings, shutting bars and restaurants, closing schools and national lockdowns – are helping. In recent days, health officials in Germany and Belgium have said they are seeing the number of new cases begin to level off.