World news – WHO’s Europe chief warns of ‘alarming rates of transmission’


The European head of the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning of « alarming rates of transmission » of coronavirus in parts of the continent.

« We do have a very serious situation unfolding before us, » Dr Hans Kluge said in a press briefing on Thursday (local time).

« Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March. »

Dr Kluge said the region’s case numbers totalled more than 300,000 last week, adding the rise in new cases should serve as a « wake up call ».

He said the largest proportion remains among adults ages 25 to 49 but noted increases in cases in older age groups, who tend to be more vulnerable to the deadly disease.

« This pandemic has taken so much from us in Europe: 4,893,614 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded and 226,524 deaths, and that tells only part of the story, » Dr Kluge said.

With a coronavirus caseload above 600,000 and more than 30,000 confirmed deaths, Spain has been the hardest hit European country in the second wave of the pandemic.(AP: Bernat Armangue)

« Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region, » he said.

Dr Kluge warned countries against reducing the quarantine period for people potentially exposed to the coronavirus, even as he acknowledged that COVID-19 fatigue is setting in and people are increasingly resistant to the strict public health measures needed to control the pandemic.

The warning came as France registered 10,593 new confirmed coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, setting a new daily record and pushing the cumulative number to 415,481, the health ministry reported on Thursday (local time).

The sharp increase is a result of a higher infection rate but also of a massive increase in testing.

The Government has made COVID-19 testing free, resulting in long queues at testing centres in cities across France.

However hundreds of workers at COVID-19 laboratories in France went on strike on Thursday (local time), angry over poor working conditions as the coronavirus testing system buckles under huge demand.

Germany, meanwhile, has recorded its largest single-day increase in new coronavirus infections since late April, underlining an upward trend over recent weeks.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control centre, said that 2,194 new cases were reported over the past day.

That is still far below the figures of over 6,000 seen at the height of the pandemic’s first wave at the beginning of April, but new cases were down to a few hundred a day between May and July.

It is still in a better position than several other European countries as infections rebound in many places.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that authorities will have to impose tougher measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and « protect » the Christmas holidays.

Mr Johnson’s comments come amid reports that the Government is set to impose a 10:00pm curfew on pubs and restaurants in northern England in response to a recent jump in infections.

Writing in the Sun newspaper on Thursday, Mr Johnson says the only way to be certain the country can enjoy Christmas « is to be tough now ».

He said that he wants to « stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump ».

Over the past two days, opposition lawmakers criticised Mr Johnson’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, accusing the Government of lacking a cohesive plan to tackle the second wave of the pandemic.

Figures released late Wednesday showed 3,991 new confirmed UK infections during the previous 24 hours, up from 3,105 a day earlier.

This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.

AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)


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