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Poland: national stadium turned into a field hospital

The number of daily coronavirus deaths on November 18 broke a grim record in Poland, totalling 603 people and bringing the country’s overall death toll to 11,451.

The total number of confirmed infections is now up to 772,823 with the death toll standing at 11,451.

Soldiers are being mobilised to conduct COVID-19 testing, so medical professionals can focus on helping patients while other spaces, including Warsaw’s National Stadium, are being transformed into field hospitals.

Bars and restaurants have been closed and gatherings of more than five people have been banned.

The authorities are partly blaming the rise in cases on protests against a ruling from the constitutional court wich further restricted abortions in the country.

Hungary: lacking qualified medical staff to treat COVID patients

Doctors in Hungary are warning that a lack of medical staff qualified to treat coronavirus patients in intensive care units could soon lead to soaring deaths and a breakdown in the country’s fragile health care system despite the government’s expensive medical equipment purchases.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban last week announced the country’s strictest pandemic restrictions to date to combat rapidly rising coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths, predicting that without the measures Hungary’s health care system had only a “50% chance” of coping with the pandemic.

The government has ordered hospitals to expand ICUs to accommodate the rapid rise in COVID-19 patients and earlier this year purchased 16,000 ventilators at a cost of 842 million euros for the expected surge this fall.

But Hungarian Chamber of Doctors has warned that the number of ICU beds and ventilators are overshadowed by a lack of qualified doctors and nurses to treat ICU patients.

Every weekday at 1900 CET, Uncovering Europe brings you a European story that goes beyond the headlines. Download the Euronews app to get an alert for this and other breaking news. It’s available on Apple and Android devices.

Portugal: intensive care beds packed with COVID patients

Authorities in Portugal say 85% of intensive care beds set aside for COVID-19 patients are occupied.

Health Minister Marta Temido says 432 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units, where a total of 506 beds are earmarked for pandemic patients.

She says the public health service can expand the number of intensive care beds for coronavirus patients to 960 beds, but it will impact treatment for other illnesses.

Portuguese hospital admissions have been climbing since the end of September.

The country’s 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 of population is 785, close to the numbers for Italy and France, according to the European Centre for Disease Control.

Germany introduces COVID-19 tests for travellers returning from high-risk areas

Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn announced that he would impose tests for the novel coronavirus on travellers returning from regions at risk in light of the rise in new cases.

“We must prevent returning travellers from contaminating other people without knowing it and thus triggering new chains of infection,” the minister said in a tweet on his official account, adding that he would accordingly “decree a compulsory test for travellers returning from high-risk regions».

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Chief of Staff Helge Braun urged Germans on Monday to bring the recent daily case numbers of more than 800 cases, back down below 500.

Helge Braun said an increase in infections over recent days gives “cause for concern.” He added that causes range from clusters among seasonal and meat industry workers to small outbreaks related to family meetings, travel and leisure activities.

Meanwhile, Bavaria’s Minister-President Markus Söder said he is concerned that the number of cases may rise again due to travellers from abroad and said he would like to introduce mandatory and cost-free COVID-19 tests at German airports and voluntary testing at the railway stations in Munich and Nuremberg, as well as at border crossings for automobiles.

He also wants to test all harvest workers — an entire farm with 500 people was quarantined in the German state of Bavaria on Sunday after 174 workers tested positive for the virus.

Authorities are confident the outbreak in the town of Mamming, in the Dingolfing-Landau district, has not spread outside the farm.

Infected and non-infected people have now been separated, while a fence has been erected around the farm and patrol guards have been deployed to make sure nobody leaves.

Spanish tourism industry looks at ways of mitigating spike in cases

Spain is fighting a new outbreak of coronavirus cases, which has prompted Britain to reintroduce a 14-day quarantine for travellers arriving from Spain.

Spanish hoteliers are suggesting that foreign tourists take a coronavirus test when they leave their own country and take another before they return home.

The Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation says such a Europe-wide rule would remove the need for all travellers to certain countries having to go into quarantine when they arrive home.

The confederation’s president, Jorge Marichal, said in a video posted on social media Monday that Spanish hotels are prepared to pay for tests on their guests at the end of their stay.

Catalonia’s regional government head Quim Torra said Monday the region was in a critical phase and effectively enforcing protective measures and staying at home would be crucial in preventing a second wave.

«We are facing the 10 most decisive days of summer,» Torra told journalists at a news conference in the government headquarters.

Last week Catalonia ordered all nightlife venues to close for 15 days and applied a midnight curfew on bars in and around Barcelona and Lleida in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, especially among young people.

But no new restrictions were announced Monday.

‘There is no crystal ball’

The CIDRAP experts’ conclusions are based on an examination of multiple models that predict future coronavirus impacts, as well as research about how COVID-19 spreads and data from past pandemics.

The coronavirus outbreak shares important similarities with influenza pandemics, like the 1918 Spanish flu (which infected 500 million people worldwide), which makes it a solid model for comparison. That’s because both viruses spread via droplets that people emit when coughing, sneezing, or talking, and they can be transmitted even when infected people show no symptoms.

But even given that historical context, experts still aren’t sure what to expect from the coronavirus, since this new virus spreads more easily than the flu does. An average person with the coronavirus infects between 2 and 2.5 new people, a metric known as the R0 value. Seasonal influenza’s Ro value, by contrast, is about 1.3.

«There is no crystal ball to tell us what the future holds and what the ‘end game’ for controlling this pandemic will be,» the report authors wrote.

A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller the first shot in a clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 on March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.

Ted S. Warren/AP

Of course, the report’s three scenarios would change if a vaccine gets developed more quickly than expected. But the authors noted that a vaccine probably won’t become available for a long time — the earliest it’s expected is in 2021. 

«We don’t know what kinds of challenges could arise during vaccine development that could delay the timeline,» they added.

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Spain: curfews and confinements amid a state of emergency

Spain is second to Belgium in the world ranking of deaths per 100,000 people at 89, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.

Along with Italy, it recorded its highest daily coronavirus death toll of the second wave at 435 deaths in 24 hours.

Authorities declared a national state of emergency with nighttime curfews imposed across the country and travel between regions is strongly discouraged.

Spain was hit hard and fast by the first wave and imposed one of the strictest lockdowns.

More than 1.5 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in Spain since the beginning of the outbreak while over 41,000 have succumbed to the disease.

Italy: highest daily coronavirus death toll of 2nd wave

Italy on Tuesday recorded its highest daily coronavirus death toll of the second wave, reporting 731 deaths in 24 hours.

The first western country hit by the coronavirus, it has tallied 46,464 deaths in total.

Italy has recorded more than one million cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, a grim record already present in France, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The country recently instituted local lockdowns in four regions and a nationwide curfew in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading.

Amid a «worrying» surge in infections, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had imposed measures including nighttime curfews and the closure of cinemas, theatres, gyms and swimming pools.

The governor of an autonomous Italian Alpine province famed for its ski resorts has declared it a “red zone,” shutting down as of Monday most non-essential shops, bars, cafes and restaurants from serving meals and forbidding citizens to leave their towns except for essential reasons like work.

The southern country was the first in Europe to impose local and then a national lockdown in early March to stem the quick spread of the virus.

The new restrictions were met with anger with protests breaking out in Rome and other cities.

The country has recorded more than 30,000 new daily cases on three occasions in the last few days, and currently has a total of 790,377. Its death toll is the second highest in Europe after the UK at 39,764.

Bringing down case numbers during summer

German officials have said that getting cases to come down during the summer is important as Europeans are more likely to be outside.

«We must work to get the infection figures down again, and they should be at the lowest possible level at the end of the summer, because, according to everything we know so far, it is easier for us to keep the numbers down in summer than in fall and winter,» said Helge Braun, Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, according to the Associated Press.

Many are more worried that larger community transmission could occur more easily during the fall season.

«It is very likely since we know that COVID-19 is transmitted via droplets and aerosols, and during the winter season when people tend to stay mainly in closed rooms this will automatically lead to increased numbers,» said Haas, noting that so far, however, it does not appear to be a seasonal infection such as flu.

But many older people — more at risk of dying of the virus — are continuing to practice distancing.

«I don’t believe we will see a generalised second wave because I believe old and vulnerable people will still protect themselves, even if governments are busy stripping away some of the protection afforded by rigorous and enforced social distancing measures,» said Scally.

«The question to ask is, how much pressure do you have on the virus, do you understand where the virus is in your country, do you understand populations that are being affected, have you got in place the necessary control measures to keep the pressure on the virus,» the WHO’s Dr Ryan said last week.

«Every single country where pressure has been lifted on the virus, where the virus is still at the community level, there’s been a jump back in cases.

«The question is how effective are authorities at reacting to those increased numbers and to what extent are communities empowered, supported and involved in that process and playing their part in suppressing the virus transmission,» he added.

Czech Republic: one of Europe’s worst-hit sees some promising signs

Infections in the Czech Republic have started to decline after a two-month rise to record-high levels.

But crematoriums in the country reported they were overburdened as the coronavirus death toll soared, placing the country at the top end of Europe’s grim statistics.

For weeks, the Czech Republic has been the hardest-hit country in Europe in terms of new deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Since late October, daily coronavirus deaths in the EU member of 10.7 million people have been hovering around 200, compared with the usual average of 300 deaths from all causes.

The government has shut hospitality businesses, schools and limited public gatherings to two people. The army has set up a 500-bed field hospital in Prague.

If cases continue to fall, the government has said that some children could return to school.

Meanwhile, volunteers are being trained to take the pressure off a health service under huge pressure.

Italian region introduces fines for mask dodgers

The southern Italian region of Campania has imposed a €1,000 for anyone who does not wear a mask. On top of the new fee, businesses could be forced to close for a duration of five to 30 days.

«If our fellow citizens think that the problem is resolved, that means that within a few weeks we will return to a hard emergency,» the region’s governor Vincenzo De Luca warned on Friday as he announced the move on Facebook.

The measure will apply to anybody not wearing a mask in an enclosed space, including public buildings, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, shops as well as public transport (buses, trains and subways).

Italy is one of the countries worst affected by the pandemic in Europe, accounting for over 242,000 cases and more than 35,000 deaths.

Belgium reimposes social distancing restrictions

Belgium’s prime minister on Monday unveiled a set of drastic social distancing measures aimed at avoiding a new general lockdown amid a surge of COVID-19 infections.

Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said that from next Wednesday contacts outside family circles will be limited to the same five people over the next four weeks. Belgian residents are currently allowed to meet with 15 different people. The measures don’t apply to children under the age of 12.

“Our aim is clear — avoid another full lockdown,” Wilmes said after a meeting of the national security council.

Wilmes said that the new measures — which also include lowering crowd limits at public events to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors — could be sufficient to avoid further restrictions and to ensure children can return to school en masse in September, after the summer break.

After a sharp decline of infections, Belgium has witnessed a surge in the number of confirmed cases over the past three weeks. According to figures released Monday, the number of confirmed cases rose 71% from July 17-23 compared to the previous 7 days, with 47% of the cases detected in Antwerp province.

The number of cases also increased greatly in the rest of the county, with an average of 279 new daily cases and a 30% rise in the number of people admitted to hospital.

Local lockdowns expand in the UK

Oldham became the latest British city on Tuesday to impose local measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 following a spike in infections.

It comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the government’s decision to recommend against all but essential travel to Spain.

«Let’s be absolutely clear about what’s happening in Europe, amongst some of our European friends, I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic,» he said.

The 235,000 residents of Oldham, near Manchester, are being urged not to have social visitors at their home and to keep two metres apart from others when outside. Furthermore, rules regarding visiting loved ones in care homes are not being relaxed while vulnerable people currently shielding are being asked to extend their self-isolation by a further two weeks from July 31.

Oldham Council said the measures were imposed to avoid a stricter lockdown following a rise in new cases.

«We have seen 119 cases in the seven days to 25 July. By comparison, the week ending 17 July saw just 26 positive cases,» it said.

It also stressed that a «significant proportion of recent cases are multiple individuals from one household showing that household speed is a real issue».

Earlier this month, similar measures were also introduced Rochdale, also near Manchester, as well as Blackburn with Darwen and Pendle, both located in Lancashire.

The UK is Europe’s hardest-hit country with more than 45,900 fatalities and over 302,000 infections recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Most lockdown measures have been eased across Britain although residents must wear face coverings when on public transport and indoor public spaces. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last week that the government doesn’t «rule out bringing a national lockdown if that is needed».

France wants firms to build-up stock of face masks

France and Belgium are recommending that travellers ditch plans to spend their summer vacations in Barcelona and its nearby beaches, which have seen crowds too massive to allow for social distancing.

Also on Monday, the government sent a note to companies, advising them to «build a preventive stock of protective masks for ten weeks to be able to deal with a potential resurgence of the pandemic.»

The supply of protective masks has improved, yet the government urged employers they should «collectively ensure (they) have the necessary equipment to protect employees» to make sure they can carry on with their activities.

Starting 20 July, France mandated all customers to wear masks in stores and indoor venues. The measure was taken shortly after the Mayenne area of the Loire region has seen several COVID-19 outbreaks, and authorities have recorded a marginal increase in infections in the Paris region.

France has so far avoided reinforcing lockdown, but the country’s ‘R’ infection rate grew by a worryingly 1.3 on Saturday — this means that infected people contaminate 1.3 others on average.

The country’s daily reported infections are also rising, reaching over 1,100 on Friday.

Health authorities have warned France risks taking a backward step in the battle against the virus, which has killed over 30,000 people there, as current infection indicators resemble those seen in May at the end of the strict two-month lockdown.

“We have cancelled much of the progress that we’d achieved in the first weeks of lockdown-easing,” health authorities said, also warning that French citizens appear to be letting their guard down during their summer vacations and that those who test positive are not self-isolating enough.

French authorities recently enforced a €135 fine for people who do not wear face-mask in closed public spaces.

Cases in Austria on the rise

People in the Austrian resort town of St. Wolfgang, near Salzburg, were urged to stay at home after 44 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.

It is believed the infection spread during parties in the town’s bars — two of which have now been temporarily closed as a preventive measure. All bars and clubs now have to shut by 11 pm.

Austria has seen a rise in cases after relaxing restrictions, prompting Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to announce last week the reintroduction of mandatory face masks in supermarkets, smaller grocery stores, post offices and banks.

Austria has reported over 20,000 cases and more than 700 related deaths so far.

Pandemic ‘continues to accelerate’

Across Europe, other countries are taking measures to avoid being overwhelmed by another wave of COVID-19 infections.

The coronavirus pandemic «continues to accelerate,» with a doubling of cases over the last six weeks, the World Health Organization chief said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nearly 16 million cases have now been reported to the UN health agency, with more than 640,000 deaths worldwide.

«COVID-19 has changed our world,” he told reporters from WHO’s Geneva headquarters on Monday. “It has brought people, communities and nations together — and driven them apart.»

Hajj starts in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is preparing to host the great Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca on Wednesday, but this year with a very small number of worshippers due to the coronavirus pandemic — a first in modern history.

Only 10,000 people from Saudi Arabia, including foreign residents of the kingdom, are this year allowed to perform the hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.

Some 2.5 million pilgrims made the great pilgrimage last year, many coming from abroad.

The foreign press is also not allowed, as the Saudi government has tightened access to Islam’s holiest city.

The number of reported cases of the virus reached 16 million worldwide on Sunday, including 260,000 cases recorded in Saudi Arabia.

Scenario 2: A second, larger wave of infections this fall

The worst — and most likely — of the three scenarios is one in which the first wave is followed by a larger wave in the fall or early winter. After that would come one or more smaller subsequent waves in 2021.

Fauci warned policymakers during a Senate hearing on Tuesday that the country will see a potentially devastating resurgence of the coronavirus if states and localities relax social distancing without heeding federal guidelines. 

Ruobing Su/Business Insider

That would mirror what happened during the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic and the 2009 H1N1 flu.

A second wave of infections with an even higher peak would require US states (and other countries in the Northern Hemisphere) to reinstitute mitigation measures like lockdowns, the researchers wrote. 

«States, territories, and tribal health authorities should plan for the worst-case scenario,» they added.

The deadliest day in Australia and new cases in Vietnam

On Monday, Australia’s Victoria state registered a new record number of 532 new COVID-19 cases and six people died within a day.

Victoria premier Daniel Andrews said the biggest source of new infections was people continuing to go to work after showing symptoms. He warned Melbourne’s lockdown will continue until they stopped.

On Sunday, Vietnam reimposed restrictions in one of its most popular beach destinations after a second person tested positive for the virus — these marked the first locally transmitted cases in the country in over three months.

Da Nang authorities banned gatherings of more than 30 people in public places as well as all sport, cultural and religious events in the city of 1.1 million.

UK: tentative signs lockdown is working

The United Kingdom, which became the first European country to pass 50,000 deaths from COVID-19, has started to show some tentative signs to suggest its resurgence is levelling off after wide-ranging restrictions were imposed.

In its weekly survey of new infections, Britain’s statistics agency said the rate of growth of the virus in England appeared to start slowing around the time a new four-week lockdown took effect on November 5.

The British government’s main scientific advisory group said the virus’ reproduction rate dipped even before the latest lockdown.

It comes after England entered a full national lockdown on 5 November in an effort to curb the spread and prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

All non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes have been closed and people have been told to work from home where they can. Schools remain open throughout the lockdown.

Coronavirus restrictions vary between UK countries and Wales has now emerged from a «firebreak» lockdown which was imposed earlier than the one in England.

The government has been criticised for its handling of the pandemic and opposition leaders have said the country should have been locked down sooner.

UK PM Boris Johnson went into isolation after coming into contact with someone infected with COVID-19, a Downing Street spokesperson said on Sunday evening.

But the leader said Monday morning on Twitter that he is in good health and has no symptoms.

Releasing restrictions means a resurgence of cases

«The assumptions that the disease would naturally come in waves is an assumption that’s based on previous pandemics with other respiratory viruses like influenza,» said Dr Mike Ryan, the director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies programme.

«What is clear is that countries that have implemented control measures have suppressed the virus and when those measures to suppress the virus are lifted the virus returns,» he said.

Lifting restrictions on the virus inevitably causes the virus to come back but social distancing measures and testing and tracing methods can help contain a large resurgence of the virus that would resemble Europe’s first waves in March and April.

«I think that we should consider ourselves always at risk until we either immunity, which no community has, or we have a vaccine. And first or second wave isn’t super accurate in describing that,» said Sarah Fortune, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, at a press conference.

That’s because as long as the virus is present in the community, people should not be letting up on social distancing so that the case numbers stay low, experts say.

«At the moment the numbers are still very small, but we see an increase in many European countries, so it could be the beginning of a second wave,» said Professor Jürgen Haas, Head of Infection Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

«In some countries, such as the UK, the social distancing restrictions have only just recently been lifted, so it can be anticipated that the numbers will begin to increase.»

Some experts have said that the definition of a second wave is related to the way in which daily coronavirus cases and deaths are displayed and will be determined by whether or not the resurgence can be brought under control.

Italy, for instance, was an early European hotspot and had a large curve of new daily cases in March but has since been able to keep transmission to a few hundred cases a day. That is shown as a first wave in the graph below.

The United Kingdom, meanwhile, having issued movement restrictions later, had thousands of new cases for a longer period of time, with the daily case numbers coming down much later. These curves are also represented by the daily number of deaths due to the virus, which have stayed low in countries that issued lockdowns.

«Part of our definitional thinking is probably based on having seen the epidemic curves of deaths from US cities during Spanish influenza a hundred years ago,» said Gabriel Scally, a member of the UK’s Independent SAGE committee that advises the government.

«I think the UK is having a resurgence. The UK’s epidemic curve so far has been very long and drawn out because of the late and inadequate response in the early months,» Scally added.

«If we are able to control and reduce infection numbers similar to the first wave it would be considered a second wave, rather than a resurgence,» said Haas.

The ability to do this could depend on how the public responds to this uptick in cases.

Germany: protests over COVID measures

Germany this week saw protests over coronavirus restrictions, with police firing water cannons Wednesday at demonstrators in Berlin’s government district, after crowds ignored calls to wear masks and keep their distance from one another in line with pandemic regulations.

Overall, the country has reported about 833,000 coronavirus cases and more than 13,000 virus-related deaths in the pandemic, a death toll one-fourth the size of Britain’s.

Health Minister Jens Spahn defended the measures in parliament and also praised the efforts of German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which together with Pfizer says it is leading the race to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. The health minister denied that vaccinations would be compulsory.

The country was seen as a role model in the spring for its fast and aggressive testing and contact-tracing method, which was credited with keeping the country’s death toll down.

However, rising cases pushed the government to announce a partial lockdown from 2 November. Bars, cafes and restaurants are among the businesses that have closed nationwide.

Meanwhile, German Health Minister Jens Spahn came under fire for saying that nurses who test positive for COVID-19 could continue working with the proper protective measures in place.

More than 751,095 cases have so far been confirmed in Germany, with a death toll currently standing at 12,200.

Belgium: virologists believe it has passed its peak

Belgian health authorities said on November 9 they’re confident that the country has now passed the peak of hospital admissions in its second wave. It reinstated lockdown measures at the end of October.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the new measures would stay in force for «at least a month and a half», at a press conference prior to the lockdown.

Belgium, a nation of 11 million people, has reported a daily average of 185 deaths, a slight decrease from its previous seven-day average.

Virologist Steven Van Gucht says this represents a 5% decrease, as well as urging citizens to adhere to the government coronavirus advice and respect the rules of the partial lockdown in place across the nation.

The daily average of hospital admissions was 406 patients per day, a decrease of 24%.

Despite this, Belgium leads the world with 129 deaths per 100,000 people, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.

It has reported more than 504,000 total cases and 14,839 confirmed deaths in total.

France: second lockdown is working, experts say

French Prime Minister Jean Castex warned on 12 November that French intensive care units are nearing saturation with 95% of them currently treating COVID-19 patients.

Experts are now saying that current lockdown restrictions in the country are having a positive effect with the virus spread slowing down, but the battle to contain it rages on.

France, which entered a second national lockdown in October, will likely stay restricted past December 1, with bars and restaurants unlikely to reopen in early December.

All non-essential shops have been closed but some may be able to reopen in December, the prime minister said. People currently need to fill in a form to justify getting out of their houses but schools, factories and building works will continue.

With more than 1.8 million infections since the start of the health crisis, France has Europe’s highest cumulative total of recorded cases.

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