The number of weekly coronavirus cases in Europe topped 300,000 last week – higher than during the first peak in March – triggering grave warnings from health experts.
Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, the World Health Organisation’s European director Dr Hans Kluge warned that Europe was facing a “very serious” situation and advised against “even a slight reduction in the length of the quarantine”.
Dr Kluge said more than half of European countries had registered a rise in infections greater than 10 per cent in the past two weeks.
Dr Kluge said: “We have a very serious situation unfolding before us.
“Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March.
“Last week, the region’s weekly tally exceeded 300,000 patients.
“More than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10 per cent increase in cases in the past two weeks.
“Of those, seven countries have seen newly reported cases increase more than two-fold in the same period.”
Dr Kluge stressed the effectiveness of the stringent lockdowns that were imposed across the region at the beginning of the pandemic.
“In the spring and early summer we were able to see the impact of strict lockdown measures. Our efforts, our sacrifices, paid off,” he said.
“In June cases hit an all-time low. The September case numbers, however, should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.”
Dr Kluge added that although the rising numbers reflected “more comprehensive testing”, they also showed “alarming rates of transmission across the region”.
The WHO also said it would not alter its two-week recommendation for quarantine for anyone exposed to the virus, as several European countries look to shorten their period of self-isolation.
“Our quarantine recommendation of 14 days has been based on our understanding of the incubation period and transmission of the disease. We would only revise that on the basis of a change of our understanding of the science,” WHO Europe’s senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said.
In the UK and Ireland, anyone exposed to the coronavirus must quarantine for 10 days, while France has reduced its period to 7 days.
“Knowing the immense individual and societal impact even a slight reduction in the length of quarantine can have … I encourage countries of the region to make scientific due process with their experts and explore safe reduction options,” Dr Kluge urged.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned on Wednesday that the number of newly reported cases over a 14-day period for the EU, European Economic Area and the UK has been increasing for more than 50 days, with over half of all EU countries currently experiencing an increase in cases.
The ECDC added that while the rising number of reported cases will partly be due to increased testing, it is also due to the relaxation of social distancing and other preventive measures.
WHO Europe has recorded nearly five million confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 227,000 related deaths.