Second wave of the virus, infection rate slowing

Visitors watch the dolphins show while keeping one bench as safety distance at the Madrid Zoo Aquarium Park on August 25, 2020, in Madrid, Spain.

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There is cause for cautious optimism in some European countries battling the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, as the rate of daily new infections starts to stabilize.

Meanwhile, a report published Thursday bolstered hopes that the country is getting its recent spike in coronavirus cases back under control. The U.K.’s Imperial College London published the latest findings from an ongoing study into the prevalence of the virus in which it said that the coronavirus’ reproduction (or R) number “had decreased from 1.7 to 1.1 … but with a wide possible range for the recent value of 0.7 to 1.5.”

The R number indicates the number of secondary infections generated from one infected individual, on average. Scientists want to keep the R number below 1 to slow the spread of the disease.

“This suggests that the rate of new infections has decreased, but an R above 1 would mean cases will continue to rise if current trends continue,” Imperial scientists said, reporting the results from swab tests carried out on more than 80,000 people between Sept. 18 and 26 as part of its “REACT 1” study.

The study tracks current cases of Covid-19 in the community by testing more than 150,000 randomly-selected people each month over a two-week period. Volunteers take nose and throat swabs at home, which are then analyzed in a laboratory.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT program at Imperial, said the results suggested some of the measures introduced in the U.K. to stop the spread of the virus, including the “rule of six” limiting social gatherings, could be having an effect.

“While our latest findings show some early evidence that the growth of new cases may have slowed, suggesting efforts to control the infection are working, the prevalence of infection is the highest that we have recorded to date,” he said.

“This reinforces the need for protective measures to limit the spread of the disease and the public’s adherence to these.”

The U.K. has seen some of its highest numbers of daily infections over the last week. On Wednesday, 7,108 many cases were reported, following 7,143 new cases on Tuesday, the highest daily rise in infections recorded so far.

Mixed signals

As well as the U.K., other European countries have tightened coronavirus measures to stem the spread of the virus, with measures including the re- introduction of localized lockdowns in some regions and cities and limiting the number of people that can socially gather, as well as the opening hours of pubs, bars and restaurants.

Germany and Spain have both announced tougher regional measures this week to curb spikes in coronavirus cases, particularly in urban areas, with outbreaks traced to family gatherings.

Major European countries that have seen spikes are also seeing what could be signs that the daily number of infections, while still high, are tentatively starting to stabilize and decline, in some cases — but not all.

In Spain, daily counts of infections remain high, hovering around the 10,000 mark this week with around 11,000 registered Wednesday, but a tentative decline in new cases is being seen. Spanish health ministry data points to a decline.

Between September 14-20, over 70,000 new cases were reported while data from the week afterwards saw just over 53,000 new cases recorded. Nonetheless, the government is taking no chances with virus hotspot Madrid, deciding on Wednesday to lock down the capital as infections there remain high. They account for over a third of new daily infections across the whole country, regional data attest. Spain has the highest number of cases in Europe, its tally at 769,188, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In France, which has the second highest number of coronavirus cases (with 604,031 cases, JHU states), the situation is not so good. Over 12,000 new cases were reported by the health ministry Wednesday, with the rise above 10,000 new cases being seen for the first time in three days, and the number of people hospitalized rising by 90 to a 10-week high, Reuters calculated, of 6,590.

Italy and Germany are the major economies in Europe that have not seen as dramatic a surge as elsewhere, although both have seen acute outbreaks in certain regions.

Germany reported 1,798 new cases on Wednesday, down from 2,089 new infections the previous day, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute, but the public health body warned that the four-day R value (a four-day moving average of the number of new cases) “has been predominantly greater than 1 since the second week of September,” although it stood at 0.96 Wednesday.

In Italy, the number of new daily infections appears not to be rising too dramatically. Although 1,851 new cases were reported Wednesday by the health ministry, just over 200 higher than the previous day, it was noted by Italian news agency Ansa that 15,000 more coronavirus tests had been carried out by the health ministry than the previous day, and this could account for the increase.

Characterizing the infection curve as “stable,” Ansa noted that no region showed zero new infections and “Campania, once again, led the way with 287 new cases” followed by Lazio, where Rome is located, registering 210 new cases. And Lombardy, where Italy’s original outbreak emerged, a further 201 cases on the day before.

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