European politicians and experts charged with combating the coronavirus pandemic are raising the alarm that nations across the continent are on the brink of an “out-of-control” resurgence of the disease.
As multiple countries experienced record rises in infections – including some previously praised for the effectiveness of their response – a chorus of increasingly grim warnings was matched by announcements of tightening restrictions.
Among those voices was the head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, who said the country was facing a “very serious” rise in cases as it reported a record 11,287 infections.
The Czech Republic prime minister, Andrej Babiš, warned of an “enormous surge” as he apologised for reintroducing tough restrictions that Czechs had been told would not be needed again. He said that without the measures the country’s healthcare system faced an imminent “collapse”.
The Czech government is likely to ask parliament to extend state-of-emergency powers that are due to run out on 3 November. “I apologise even for the fact that I ruled out this option in the past because I was not able to imagine it might happen,” Babiš said. “Unfortunately it has happened and now, above all, we have to protect the lives of our citizens.”
Spain’s health minister, Salvador Illa, added to the mounting sense of a region-wide crisis, saying “drastic” measures were necessary to combat a new wave of the pandemic. The government is considering fresh restrictions including curfews after Spain became the first country in western Europe to record more than 1m cases of the virus.
“The second wave is a reality. In many areas of our country, the epidemic is out of control,” Illa told Onda Cero radio.
In the Netherlands, more than 9,000 new cases were recorded in 24 hours, a new record. The Dutch hospital system, which has reported coming under increasing strain from coronavirus admissions, said it expected to begin transferring some patients to Germany for treatment within two days.
Poland’s health ministry reported a record 12,107 new coronavirus infections and 168 deaths in the space of 24 hours.
Croatia reported its biggest daily tally of infections, nearly half of which were in its capital. Zagreb recorded 705 new cases, which was more than double the previous day’s 337.
The World Health Organization’s latest epidemiological update, published at the beginning of this week, noted a continuing rapid increase in cases and deaths in Europe, with the region now contributing 38% of all new cases reported worldwide and deaths increasing by 29% from the previous week.
Most striking has been the situation in Germany, widely regarded as having handled the pandemic well. While infection rates in Germany remain lower than in much of Europe, they have been accelerating.
Authorities have tightened restrictions, such as by banning large gatherings. Local restrictions have also been imposed: in Berlin, it is now compulsory to wear a mask on certain busy streets.
Wieler, of the Robert Koch Institute, blamed private gatherings, especially among young people, for the recent rise in cases. “The more people gather in private circles, the more the numbers will increase and the further the virus will spread,” he said, adding that “the young are currently the most exposed to this virus”.
In Sweden, where cases are also rising, the government said on Thursday it would tighten rules for nightclubs to force them to limit the number of partygoers to 50. “The parties at the nightclubs are over now,” said the prime minister, Stefan Löfven.
In Belgium, Sophie Wilmès, the foreign minister, who was caretaker prime minister during the first wave of the coronavirus, has been admitted to intensive care.
The 45-year-old tested positive for Covid-19 last week and had been self-isolating, but her condition worsened and on Wednesday night she was taken to a Brussels hospital.
“She is conscious and she can communicate,” her spokeswoman said, confirming that Wilmès was receiving intensive care. A source in her office said her condition was stable.