‘On brink of disaster’: Shaken Europe overtakes US in virus surge
European nations are closing schools, cancelling operations and enlisting legions of student medics as overwhelmed authorities face the nightmare scenario of a COVID-19 resurgence at the onset of winter.
With new cases hitting about 100,000 a day, Europe has by a wide margin overtaken the United States, where more than 51,000 COVID-19 infections are reported on average every day.
Most European governments eased lockdowns over the summer to start reviving economies already battered by the pandemic’s first wave.
But the return of normal activity—from packed restaurants to new university terms—fuelled a sharp spike in cases all over the continent.
Bars and pubs were among the first to shut or face earlier closing in the new lockdowns, but now the surging infection rates are also testing governments’ resolve to keep schools and non-COVID medical care going.
Even Pope Francis was subject to new coronavirus rules, staying at a safe distance from well-wishers at his weekly audience on Wednesday.
In Lisbon, football fans were unsurprised after Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo tested positive, saying it simply showed everyone was at risk of getting infected—and famous athletes were no exception.
The Czech Republic, with Europe’s worst rate per capita, has shifted schools to distance learning and plans to call up thousands of medical students. Hospitals are cutting non-urgent medical procedures to free up beds.
“Sometimes we are at the edge of crying,” said Lenka Krejcova, a head nurse at Slany hospital near Prague, as builders hurried to turn a general ward into a COVID-19 department.
Poland is ramping up training for nurses and considering creating military field hospitals, Moscow is to move many students to online learning, and Northern Ireland is closing schools for two weeks and restaurants for four.
“I don’t have any good information. We are on the brink of disaster,” said immunologist Pawel Grzesiowski in Poland, which reported a record 6,526 infections and 116 deaths on Wednesday.
Efforts to develop a vaccine hit snags in some areas, with Johnson & Johnson pausing its trial after an unexplained illness in a study participant. AstraZeneca’s US trial has remained on hold for more than a month.
Russia, which recorded a record daily increase in cases, has meanwhile granted regulatory approval to a second vaccine.