(CN) — Tangles of young people partying at illegal all-night raves on hidden beaches, in forests and deep inside major cities. Waves of soccer fans taking to the streets to celebrate championship titles. People swarming beaches and crowding together under beach umbrellas.
This is the unsettling picture emerging in Europe driving health experts and public authorities to despair and fueling alarm about a resurgence of coronavirus infections as restrictions are eased and people ignore rules meant to keep the virus in check. Instead, as the pandemic recedes, people across Europe are letting their guard down and discarding masks, hugging and kissing again and enjoying summer parties.
But by Friday, Italy joined Germany and Portugal in fighting new clusters of infection. Earlier in the week, Germany imposed restrictions on two areas in North Rhine-Westphalia after about 1,500 low-paid migrant workers at Germany's largest meat factory tested positive. Portuguese officials are clamping down in parts of Lisbon due to an uptick of cases there. Portugal is reporting about 275 new cases a day.
In Italy, a cluster of more than 50 infections were discovered in an abandoned housing district in the southern region of Campania near Naples. Almost all the infections were found among a community of migrant Bulgarian workers who do seasonal harvest work. Media reports said all the cases were asymptomatic.
A decision to place the housing blocks in Mondragone under quarantine led to protests on Thursday by the Bulgarian migrants and subsequently clashes with Italian residents. Police and the military were called in to restore order.
Italy is also trying to contain another cluster of cases found among workers at a large delivery company in Bologna. So far, 47 employees at Bartolini Corriere Espresso and 17 others have been found infected.
The hope is that extensive testing, quick action and targeted quarantines can control the spread of the virus. This strategy appears to be working in China where a recent outbreak in Beijing seems to be under control. On Friday, only 11 new cases were reported in Beijing.
China, Vietnam and South Korea have kept the virus in check from the beginning of its emergence last December through rigorous testing, quarantines, local lockdowns and tracking down people who came into contact with an infected person.
Health experts say such measures are needed to contain the virus until vaccines are available. On Friday, the World Health Organization said a global initiative to speed up the development and production of coronavirus tests, vaccines and treatments will require more than $30 billion over the next year.
For now, it appears that the outbreaks in Europe can be contained, officials said. In Paris, to prevent outbreaks, authorities are moving ahead was with an experiment to conduct 1.3 million tests to find any “hidden clusters.”
“There's no reason to be alarmed because this was highly expected,” said Dr. Ranieri Guerra, an assistant director at the World Health Organization, on RAI, Italy's state broadcaster. “It was inevitable that there would be hot spots in Italy and Europe.”
More worrisome, he said, is a possibility for the virus to hit even harder in the autumn. He likened this pandemic to the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918-1919. Back then, the flu became less virulent in the hotter summer months after the first wave of sickness to only resurface with a vengeance in the autumn. More people succumbed in the second wave of that outbreak when an estimated 50 million people died, he said.
He dismissed as untrue statements by Italian doctors and experts that the virus appears to have weakened through mutations. He said the genome of the virus remains similar to when it emerged and poses a major risk of hitting hard as the weather turns chilly.