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Coronavirus Europe: Is second wave REALLY imminent?

UK ministers met today to thrash out plans to place travel restrictions on more European countries with spiralling coronavirus infections as figures show cases are on the rise in holiday hotspots on the continent.

The Government will announce which nations will be removed from Britain’s ‘air bridge’ list tomorrow following the consultation with England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and the Joint Biosecurity Centre. 

Spain became the first country to be slapped with restrictions on Saturday after cases almost trebled in July, rising to almost 40 cases per 100,000 people last week. For comparison, the UK’s rate per capita is roughly 15.

Scotland today announced it will impose a 14-day quarantine on arrivals in the country from Luxembourg, a move almost certain to be echoed in England and the rest of the UK.

A number of other EU countries considered to be ‘high risk’, including Germany, France, Belgium and Croatia, are being closely monitored amid upticks in infections.

While it is undeniable that the number of people testing positive for the virus in Europe has risen – 36 countries recorded an increase in infections, based on a seven day rolling average compared to the week before – scientists are split about whether it really constitutes a ‘second wave’. 

Some experts say the number of infections were too low to be considered a true resurgence of the disease and that it was ‘inevitable’ clusters of outbreaks would emerge when lockdowns were eased.

Professor Keith Neal, an infectious disease expert at the University of Nottingham, told MailOnline policymakers need to accept spikes will happen across Europe but they ‘in no way’ represent a second wave. He said countries will need to ‘learn to live’ with the virus by wearing masks and social distancing to keep the economy afloat. 

‘We need to learn to live with it, the virus is going to keep spreading and causing spikes or clusters unless we keep restrictions or get a vaccine. I do not think we will ever eradicate the virus. I think it is likely that the virus will be around for decades and infect people multiple times over their life span.’ 

Others said the current trajectories of outbreaks in some European countries were ‘critically sharp’ and could rapidly develop into a second wave just as deadly as the first, which warranted the economically crippling blanket travel bans.

Dr Andrew Preston, a microbiologist at the University of Bath, told MailOnline: ‘Yes, the number of cases in European countries is low compared to the initial peaks in March/April.  But the trajectory of case numbers is critical. The upturn in cases in Spain has been very sharp. If that trajectory is maintained then it doesn’t take long for the numbers to start to reach critical levels. 

‘We need to learn to live with it, the virus is going to keep spreading and causing spikes or clusters unless we keep restrictions or get a vaccine. I do not think we will ever eradicate the virus. I think it is likely that the virus will be around for decades and infect people multiple times over their life span.’ 

Covid-19 in Europe: There has been a rise in the number of cases on the continent this month, with Spain and Luxembourg suffering the biggest rise in cases

But the death tolls in these countries is still consistently low - but it can take up to three weeks for people to show symptoms, fall unwell and succumb to the virus, before they eventually trickle into the data

 But the death tolls in these countries is still consistently low – but it can take up to three weeks for people to show symptoms, fall unwell and succumb to the virus, before they eventually trickle into the data

I’m NOT hysterical: Matt Hancock denies talking up COVID panic by claiming a ‘second wave is rolling across Europe 

Matt Hancock today denied stoking up Covid-19 panic and hysteria after he warned a second wave was ‘starting to roll across Europe’ towards Britain and declared there was a ‘real danger’ of the UK being struck by a spike in cases.

Ministers today confirmed people who now test positive for coronavirus or have tell-tale symptoms will be told to stay at home for ten days, in line with World Health Organization guidance — up from the current seven-day self-isolation period because ‘evidence has strengthened’.

It came hours after it emerged that Boris Johnson — who fears a second wave could strike Britain within a fortnight — told his SAGE advisers and cabinet ministers that he ‘needs to act fast’ and is expected to ramp up quarantine measures at home and abroad within days.

Today BBC broadcaster Nick Robinson repeatedly asked Mr Hancock if he was being hysterical about rising cases in Europe and the UK because infection rates are nowhere near the lockdown peak and are likely to be a symptom of society returning to a new normal. Mr Robinson also asked if he was overreacting because of a fear of repeating mistakes Number 10 made at the start of the outbreak, such as not quarantining travellers from abroad.

The Health Secretary said: ‘No, it’s not [risking hysteria]. I’m the Health Secretary in the middle of the pandemic. We are absolutely determined to protect this country and it saddens me we are seeing these rises elsewhere but I will be vigilant and we will move fast if we need to because that is what the virus requires and the virus moves fast and so must we.’

Labour MP Chris Bryant today called for ministers to calm down, saying ‘we need a stiletto not a sledgehammer’ to tackle clusters of coronavirus. He said: ‘It makes me so angry the government are so loose with their language. There isn’t a second wave rolling out across Europe. There are worrying signs of individual spikes of increased infection in some areas.’

Professor Neal added that a ramping up of testing capacity across the continent is partly responsible for the apparent rise in cases, with more people with mild illness being picked up compared to at the start of the crisis, when many countries were only swabbing hospital patients. 

Experts point to the fact there has not yet been a rise in Covid-19 deaths as evidence against the second wave theory. 

But there is roughly a three-week time period between someone catching the infection, falling ill with symptoms and passing away, so it could take another week or so before fatalities on the continent start to appear in the data.

Meanwhile, there has been much debated about the term ‘second wave’ itself, which many epidemiologists say is becoming a ‘scary term’ peddled by politicians. A second wave implies the virus was eradicated and has come back.

Professor Anthony Costello, a former World Health Organization (WHO) official, said this morning ‘this is still the first wave’ and spikes in infections were signs of the virus bursting through the defensive measures put in place by Governments around the world.  

It comes after Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that a second wave was already rolling through Europe, conjuring up images of another deadly surge of infections in the UK.

So what is the situation among Europe’s ‘high risk’ countries? MailOnline looks at how Covid-19 is behaving in nations most likely to be slapped with travel restrictions by UK officials: 

 Spain 

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Spain has recorded almost 40 cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks. 

On Saturday, Boris Johnson imposed a mandatory 14 day quarantine rule for anyone travelling back from Spain to the UK, where the infection rate is roughly a third (14 infections per 100,000).

The outbreak remains under control in many parts of Spain, but regions such as Catalonia in the north-east and neighbouring Aragon have seen a huge spike in infections. 

Spain has been one of the hardest hit countries in the world during the pandemic, suffering more than 282,000 infections and 28,000 deaths.

But some have suggested the death toll could be much higher, due to the fact the country only records Covid-19 fatalities if the victim was given a diagnosis.

Spanish newspaper El Pais reported on Sunday that the true toll could be 60 per cent greater, at about 44,868, if deaths suspected of being caused by the virus were included.

This would give Spain the highest death toll in Europe, ahead of the UK’s 46,000. 

Germany 

In the past week the country has recorded 3,611 new infections, which works out at just four infections per 100,000 people. 

But it means the nation is recording more than 500 new infections per day, compared to 350 in June. Germany was one of the few countries to successfuly squash its epidemic through widespread testing and contact tracing.

The head of Germany’s public health agency, Lothar Wieler, said he was ‘very concerned’ by rising infections in the country and suggested the country was in the midst of a second wave.

He blamed Germans becoming ‘negligent’ about the rules and urged citizens to wear masks and adhere to social distancing and hand-washing measures. 

People are now being encouraged to wear masks outside if it’s not feasible to keep a 1.5metre distance from others – previously the rules only applied in indoor settings. 

Germany is also now imposing mandatory testing for anyone returning from high-risk countries such as Brazil, Turkey and the US. Overall, Germany has recorded 209,000 cases and 9,212 deaths. 

Mr Wieler told a press conference on Monday: ‘We don’t know yet if this is the beginning of a second wave but of course it could be. But I am optimistic that if we follow the hygiene rules we can prevent it, it’s up to us.’

France

French Health Minister Olivier Véran said this week that while the country was ‘not currently seeing a second wave’, he warned that the outbreak was trending in that directions.

Last week the country’s daily new cases rose above 1,000 for the first time in more than 10 weeks.

France has ramped up its testing capacity dramatically since the start of the pandemic, but Mr Veran said this could not be the sole driving factor behind the spike.

Like most countries, France is experiencing mini flare ups in infections in particular regions – including the south west, Brittany and Mayenne in the north west.

The reproduction R rate nationwide is thought to be hovering at around 1.3, meaning that every 10 people with the virus will infect 13 others on average.

Experts say the R has to be below for the virus to be effectively contained and prevent the outbreak from growing exponentially. 

But the rate is being skewed upwards by hotspot areas like Brittany, where thew R spiked to 2.6 between July 17 and 20, leading to local authorities in one resort on Monday announcing the closure of beaches, parks and bars at night.

Brittany largely avoided the epidemic during the first wave of the virus but there are now a number of clusters at holiday resorts. 

Locals have blamed an unprecedented number of French holidaymakers gathering at the seaside as citizens choose to go on staycations for their summer holidays amid uncertainty around foreign travel.

France has suffered a total of 30,238 Covid-19 deaths and recorded 185,000 infections since March.

Belgium 

Belgium is thought to be one of the countries most at risk of losing its ‘air bridge’ with the UK, which would mean travellers coming back would need to quarantine for 14 days. 

There was a 71 per cent increase in the seven-day average number of infections between July 17 and July 23, up from 163 new cases a day to 279. The country was recording more than 1,000 cases at the peak of its crisis.

Between June and July, the Covid-19 rate almost tripled, from 5.3 to 15.1 per 100,000 of the population. 

The Netherlands has already warned travellers against going to the popular clubbing city of Antwerp, where the infection rate has been as high as 31.7 per 100,000 people in the last week, a fivefold increase week-on-week.

Belgium’s prime minister, Sophie Wilmès, has recommended everyone who can work from home does so once more in a bid to keep a lid on a future large-scale outbreak.

From today, families are only allowed to have social contact with five people outside their home. 

Other rules include allowing only one person from a household to go shopping and they are restricted to half an hour in supermarkets. 

Nearly 10,000 people so far have been killed by Covid-19 in Belgium, and more than 67,000 have been diagnosed with the disease. 

Luxembourg 

Luxembourg – which managed to escape the first wave of Covid-19 relatively unscathed – is now becoming Europe’s coronavirus hotspot.

The duchy has the highest infection rate on the continent at 214.9 cases per 100,000 people, which is more than quadruple Spain’s rate and 15 times higher per capita than in the UK.

But because Luxembourg, a small country of only 613,894 people, has recorded just 6,533 total cases and 114 deaths, the UK Foreign Office says it is still safe to travel there.

The country’s R rate is thought to be at 1.03, which is roughly in line with the estimated R in England.  

British experts told MailOnline today that officials in Luxembourg were ‘testing vritually everybody’, which was skewing the figures upwards.

Croatia 

UK Government ministers are meeting today to discuss whether to abort the air bridge link with Croatia, a major holiday destination for Britons, after its infection rate rose to 12.4 per 100,000 this week, slightly less than the UK’s.

But Croatian officials say the spike was linked to a number of super-spreader events such as weddings, large-scale events and sporting tournaments in the far eastern regions of Croatia, away from the popular coastal touristy areas. 

The country has so far recorded 114 deaths and more than 6,500 cases since March. 

Kristjan Stanicic, managing director of the Croatian national tourist board, said on Thursday: ‘Guests from the UK are highly important to us, and we have seen the revival and return of numerous flight routes from the UK to various Croatian cities such as Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, Pula and Dubrovnik.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk