Europe Passes Peak of Infections Two Months After Outbreak

The European Union’s health agency said 20 nations have passed the peak of coronavirus transmissions, but it warned against lifting restrictions too quickly.

A man walks along an empty street in downtown Barcelona, Spain, on Monday. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

(CN) — Two months after the coronavirus outbreak in Europe erupted in northern Italy, much of Europe is over the peak of a wave of disease that’s brought the continent to a standstill and left more than 115,000 people dead.

At the height of the outbreak, more than 3,000 people were dying a day in Europe, but the number of deaths and new infections is slowly dropping and 20 nations are now beyond the peak of the outbreak, European health officials say.

The fear is new waves of the disease will spring up as restrictions are lifted and the world remains without a vaccine. Laboratories are racing to develop vaccines, but one may not be available for 12 to 18 months.

Even now, two months after the outbreak emerged in several towns of the Po Valley in Italy, daily death tolls remain very high in the hardest-hit countries. Taken together, Spain, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium on Friday reported 2,488 new deaths from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

On Friday, the United Kingdom reported the highest daily toll with 768 new deaths, bringing its total to 19,506 fatalities. The U.K. appears to be in the midst of its worst days still. France reported 389 more deaths, raising its total to 21,856.

Europe’s hardest-hit nations, Spain and Italy, continued to record declines in deaths and infections. Spain registered 367 more deaths, its lowest number of deaths in more than a month and Italy 420 more deaths. In Spain, 22,524 people have died from the disease and Italy’s recorded 25,969 fatalities.

The disease is particularly dangerous for older people and those with underlying health conditions. On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that about half of the deaths in Europe took place in nursing homes.

Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s European regional director, called it an “unimaginable human tragedy.” He said even frail patients can recover from the disease if they are taken care of well but he said too often nursing homes lacked equipment and staff.

All the death counts reported by countries are likely partial because many people who died in their homes and in care facilities were not tested for the virus and not classified as dying from the disease.

After so much death, officials in Italy and Spain are confident that their outbreaks are coming under control. In Italy, some regions are reporting no new confirmed cases.

“The curve has flattened, we can look towards the future with hope but with caution,” said Roberto Speranza, the Italian health minister. “The virus is still circulating in our country, so don’t think this battle is won.”

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Union’s health agency, says 20 nations have passed the peak of coronavirus transmission. But the agency is warning against lifting lockdowns too quickly to prevent sudden flareups.

Slowly, people across Europe are seeing lockdowns lifted and restrictions are set to be eased much more widely in May.

The easing of restrictions can’t come soon enough for many Europeans struggling to survive during this unprecedented shutdown of society.

Unrest has broken out in suburbs of Paris where immigrant and minority populations live, often in cramped quarters. There are reports the virus has struck some of these areas hard.

For several days, there have been violent clashes between police and locals. The clashes allegedly have been sparked by police abuse during the lockdown. In particular, locals were galvanized to protest an incident involving a police officer in an unmarked car who opened his car door, allegedly to stop a passing motorcyclist. Confrontations have been reported in the cities of Roubaix and Limoges as well.

In October 2005, France saw riots break out in impoverished suburbs, which are known as banlieues, after two youth were killed while fleeing from police. The riots prompted the government to declare a national state of emergency. The rioters said they were angry over poverty, unemployment and police harassment.

Human rights groups, including the Human Rights Watch, condemned police behavior in the Paris suburbs in March and accused police of conducting unjustified and discriminatory checks and use of force during the lockdown.

In Italy, there are concerns that millions of people are falling into poverty and unable to survive. As in France’s poorer neighborhoods, food banks are becoming a necessity for many families in Italy.

With the health crisis coming under control, Europe’s stability and politics are being upended by a deepening economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Europe’s economy is forecast to shrink by about 7.5% this year.

In Germany, a gloomy outlook is spreading among businesses. On Friday, the Ifo Institute for Economic Research, a Munich-based think tank, said its index assessing the confidence businesses have in the economy crashed from 85.9 points in March to 74.3 points this month.

“This is the lowest value ever recorded, and never before has the index fallen so drastically,” the institute said. “Companies have never been so pessimistic about the coming months. The coronavirus crisis is striking the German economy with full fury.”

The index surveys about 9,000 companies and it is considered one of Germany’s key economic indicators.

The EU and individual countries are spending trillions of dollars to help businesses and individuals, but economists warn that Europe, along with much of the world, is headed into a severe recession.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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