Germany has recorded its highest rate of infections in three months, France cannot keep up with demand for tests and Finland warned of an “extremely delicate” situation as Covid-19 case numbers continued to tick up across the continent.
New cases in Germany rose above 1,000 for the first time since early May, with the national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, on Thursday reporting 1,045 infections in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of active cases to 8,700.
The figure is still far short of the peak of more than 6,000 daily cases recorded in early April, but the health minister, Jens Spahn, said the accelerating pace was a cause for concern and that while authorities could cope, the trajectory was a worry.
“We’re not living in normal times,” Spahn said. “The pandemic is still there – it will continue to be there.” Many Germans had been lulled into “a deceptive feeling that it’s not all that bad”, he said, and had relaxed their behaviour accordingly. People were “getting infected at family parties, at their place of work or at community facilities”.
From Saturday, travellers returning to Germany from high-risk regions – currently most countries outside Europe, as well as Luxembourg and northern Spain – will face mandatory coronavirus tests unless they can show a negative recent result.
If the infection rate continued to rise, Spahn said, schools and shops should remain open but tighter restrictions were likely on the size and type of gatherings permitted. “Freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility,” he said.
Brazil 2,859,073 cases, 97,256 deaths
President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the disease as a “little flu” as it rampaged through his country and mocked measures such as wearing masks. Two health ministers have quit and Brazil's outbreak is the second-deadliest in the world.
India 1,964,536 cases, 40,699 deaths
India brought in a strict nationwide lockdown in March that slowed the spread of the virus but did not bring it under control. As the country began easing controls, cases surged and it now has the third highest number. Mortality rates are low, but it is unclear if this reflects reporting problems or a relatively resilient population.
Iran 317,000 cases, 17,800 deaths
Iran had one of the first major outbreaks outside China. A lockdown slowed its spread but after that was eased in April, cases rebounded. Several senior officials have tested positive, and the government has strengthened controls, including making masks obligatory in public places.
Israel 78,300 cases, 565 deaths
Israel had an early travel ban and strict lockdowns, and in April the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared the country an example to the world in controlling Covid-19. But cases that in May were down to just 20 a day, skyrocketed after the country started opening up. Partial controls have been brought back with warnings more could follow.
Mexico 456,100 cases, 49,698 deaths
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador joined other populists from across the political spectrum in dismissing the threat from coronavirus; when schools closed in March he shared a video of himself hugging fans and kissing a baby. The outbreak is now one of the worst on the continent.
Philippines 115,980 cases, 2,123 deaths
A strict lockdown from March to June kept the disease under control but shrank the economy for the first time in 20 years. Cases have climbed steadily since the country started coming out of lockdown, and President Rodrigo Duterte has said the country cannot afford to fully reopen because it would be overwhelmed by another spike.
Russia 865,000 cases, 14,465 deaths
Coronavirus was slow to arrive in Russia, and travel bans and a lockdown initially slowed its spread, but controls were lifted twice for political reasons – a military parade and a referendum on allowing Putin to stay in power longer. Despite having the fourth biggest outbreak in the world, controls are now being eased nationwide.
Serbia 27,000 cases, 614 deaths
Cases are rising rapidly, hospitals are full and doctors exhausted. But the government has rowed back from plans to bring back lockdown controls, after two days of violent protests. Critics blame the sharp rise in cases on authorities who allowed mass gatherings in May and elections in June. Officials say it is due to a lack of sanitary discipline, especially in nightclubs.
South Africa 529,000 cases, 9,200 deaths
South Africa has by far the largest outbreak on the African continent, despite one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. Sales of alcohol and cigarettes were even banned. But it began reopening in May, apparently fuelling the recent rise in cases.
US 158,000 deaths, 4.8m cases
The US ban on travellers from overseas came late, and though most states had lockdowns of some form in spring, they varied in length and strictness. Some places that were among the earliest to lift them are now battling fast-rising outbreaks, and the country has the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths. Opposition to lockdowns and mask-wearing remains widespread.
Source: Johns Hopkins CSSE, 6 August
In Spain, the northern region of Castilla y León ordered a town of 32,000 back into confinement for two weeks after 230 cases of the virus were detected, days after two smaller towns in the same region were returned to lockdown following outbreaks.
The regional government of the Basque country, meanwhile, has said there is no longer any doubt that it is facing a second wave of the epidemic.
Speaking on Thursday after 338 new cases were diagnosed in the region, the health minister, Nekane Murga, warned people not to underestimate the virus.
“There’s no reason to think the virus is now weaker or less deadly,” she said. “It has the same capacity to spread and infect people as it did in March. It’s infecting more people on a daily basis and it can kill.”
Spain has recorded 35,4o7 new cases in the past two weeks. On Thursday, the health ministry said the total number of cases had risen to 309,855. The latest tally included 4,088 new cases, 1,683 of them diagnosed over the past 24 hours.
In France, meanwhile, experts said that with many staff on holiday, an already disorganised testing regime was struggling.
“The virus hasn’t disappeared at all ... Contamination is continuing and amplifying in some regions,” François Blanchecotte, the president of the Union of Medical Biologists, told the Associated Press. “We have to adapt the testing strategy.”
On Wednesday the country reported its biggest jump in daily confirmed cases since 30 May, with 1,695 positive diagnoses.
Blanchecotte said tests should be organised at beach resorts or tourist sites rather than just in laboratories, and criticised a government campaign to test 1.5 million Parisians just as dozens of facilities were shutting down for holidays.
The government now says it can test up to 700,000 people a week and hit a record high of 581,000 tests over the past week, but the number of new positive cases is growing twice as fast as the growth in test rates, the national health agency said.
The strategic director of Finland’s health ministry, Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, said on Thursday that the virus was accelerating, with the R number, or reproduction rate, rising to between 1.1 and 1.4, and localised lockdown measures, plus a recommendation to wear face masks, likely to be announced in an “autumn roadmap” next week.
Most of the springtime lockdown restrictions have been lifted in Finland, which has reported 7,512 infections and 331 Covid-19 deaths so far. Large indoor and outdoor gatherings are permitted, restaurants and bars are open as normal and children are due to return to class next week after the summer holidays.
“The situation is extremely delicate,” Voipio-Pulkki said. “Some sort of second stage has begun. Whether we can expect a smaller wave or a larger wave depends on how we respond.”
Poland said on Thursday it would re-impose compulsory face masks in all public spaces in nine areas as the number of infections also hit a new record. The restrictions, also affecting sports and cultural events in those areas, mainly in the south and east, will come into force from Saturday. Face masks are currently obligatory in Poland in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport, but not outdoors.
“We need to wake up a bit,” said the health minister, Łukasz Szumowski, adding that the country as a whole should be vigilant. The ministry reported 726 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily number recorded so far.
Outside Europe, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said 10 countries accounted for 80% of coronavirus testing in Africa, indicating that in many countries across the continent little testing was taking place.
Covid-19 confirmed cases across Africa have accelerated and are close to hitting a million this week, and experts say low levels of testing in many countries means infection rates are likely to be higher than reported.
In East Asia, the Philippines also recorded a jump of 3,561 new cases, to overtake neighbouring Indonesia as the country with the highest number of confirmed infections in the region: nearly 120,000.
The coronavirus has infected more than 18.8 million people, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, and killed nearly 709,000 people around the world. The highest numbers of deaths have been recorded in the US, Brazil, Mexico, the UK and India.