BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 15th September, 2020) Europe is fearing the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic as schools and universities across the continent are reopening, while tourists are returning to their home countries, experts have told Sputnik.
Jean Ruelle, a researcher at the Medical Microbiology pole of the UCLouvain university in Belgium, has said in an interview that a rise in the number of cases is mainly due to increased testing capabilities in Europe.
"The number of contaminations increases but it is mainly due to the fact that testing has increased in every country and clusters are detected much faster now and when they are much smaller than in the spring," Ruelle said, adding that fewer coronavirus-positive people were now treated in hospitals.
According to the expert, the death rate has also decreased in comparison to the initial stages of the pandemic.
"Still, we must do our utmost now to avoid the number of cases to pick up again and become exponential. It is like children on a slide. It is easy to stop at the top of the toboggan and much more difficult to stop your slide midway... We need to respect the distancing measures and wear masks now that there are indications that a second wave could erupt if we are too lax," Ruelle added.
EUROPEANS ARE FED UP WITH RESTRICTIONS
Member states of the European Union apply alert levels on the health situations in the other member states, but these rules defining the level of danger of different regions and countries are not the same throughout the bloc. Red zones in France are not the same as in Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany. The European Commission has yet to come up with a common approach to define levels of the COVID-19 threat in the union.
Tracing apps that help in identifying COVID-19 cases and their possible contacts also face similar issues. According to the European Commission, some EU countries have started testing a technology platform that will allow national coronavirus tracing apps to share data with similar apps from other countries, but not all countries have made progress in developing such applications.
The commission has initiated test runs between the servers that support the apps created by the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Latvia - whose apps share a similar design - and a new gateway to exchange data between them. Nonetheless, the majority of European countries would still be left out.
While governments and their advising expert groups are struggling to impose coherence in their policies, citizens have started to ignore coronavirus restrictions. Young people especially feel less threatened by the virus, and organize mass events, sometimes with thousands of people partying without wearing face masks.
"It is the attraction of a place like Barcelona and the Catalan coast: discos, parties on the beach and meeting friends from around Europe. For 10 days, we drank too much, but had a good time. We have excuses. Nobody drives and it is the holiday, so maybe we took some COVID risks but so be it! We are fed up with permanent confinement. I won't see my grandparents for some time. That should be enough," de Selis told Sputnik.
"The growing number of coronavirus cases fuel fears of a second wave hitting soon. But a new wave of the virus would not result in a re-imposition of the strictest social distancing rules and full confinement as was adopted at the outbreak," Kluge said earlier in September.
The WHO official also said that it was important to learn how to "live with the virus," as we do not yet have neither a treatment nor a vaccine against the coronavirus.
"Now is the time for preparation, not celebration. Falling numbers do not mean that the pandemic is coming to an end ... What's important as well is that a second wave does not mean a second lockdown of the economy and the educational system," Kluge said.
SPAIN REMAINS WORS-HIT COUNTRY IN WESTERN EUROPE
The upward trend is already impacting the country's healthcare system, as nearly 8,000 coronavirus-positive patients are currently being treated in hospitals, and 1,000 of them are in ICUs. The most challenging situation is in the Madrid region, where 18 percent of hospital beds and nearly 30 percent of beds in ICUs are occupied by patients battling COVID-19.
Hospitals have started once again to postpone non-urgent operations, and Spanish President Pedro Sanchez has already voiced his concerns regarding the health crisis.
Spain was among the hardest-hit countries during the first wave of the pandemic and imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe.
The opening of borders in the summer to save the tourism industry and the rich social life of citizens has contributed to the rise in the number of cases now.
NUMBER OF EUROPEAN COUNTRIES ON EVE OF SECOND WAVE
"Some experts speak of a ripple, or even a third small wave, after having successfully curbed the growth of a second wave less than a month ago... This is not serious. I think we have to consider that we are on the eve of a real second wave in a series of European countries: Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and others... I understand: the public is fed up. This is especially noticeable among young people and it is understandable," Ranst said.
"Politicians play a populist tune when they say what the people want to hear. Sorry, but we have to face the bad news and insist on maintaining barrier gestures and wearing a mask. Politicians must understand that they cannot sabotage the painfully obtained control of the epidemic until we have a vaccine," Ranst said.
"Europe is not becoming the United States of Europe. Nothing has been harmonized to date, but there is no doubt that a country like Spain should be classified as a fully red zone. It is the hotspot right now. And look at the number of tourists from Germany, Holland, Belgium and others who have flocked to Spanish beaches this summer. It is normal that the end of the holidays translates into an increased risk of contamination ... It's up to us to kill a second wave in the bud," the expert said.
Ranst warned that Europe should be ready for a more challenging epidemiological situation in the fall as the number of coronavirus-related fatalities may increase. The expert mentioned that Israel has decided to re-impose lockdown and wished that targeted response would be enough to "avoid generalized confinements later."