Europe fears the worst as coronavirus surge threatens to overwhelm hospitals


European governments have warned of an alarming rise in the number of coronavirus infections across the continent from west to east, an autumnal second wave that threatens to overwhelm hospitals and will sharply increase the death toll in the weeks ahead. 

“The situation is grave,” Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s prime minister, said on Friday, a day after the country recorded a new daily record of almost 21,000 infections.

His words echoed those of Jean Castex, his French counterpart, who extended a night-time curfew that will cover 46m people, or two-thirds of the population, from midnight on Friday.

“The weeks ahead will be hard. Our hospital services will be put to the test and the number of deaths will rise,” said Mr Castex, shortly before France announced a record 41,622 cases in the previous 24 hours. 

Overburdened hospitals in Roubaix and Tourcoing in northern France have begun transferring Covid-19 patients to other hospitals, but officials have warned that a transfer system that saved lives in the stricken eastern region in the pandemic’s first wave in the spring will not be much use if every part of the country and its neighbours are also badly hit. 

President Emmanuel Macron, who is anxious to avoid another economically crippling nationwide lockdown, was due to visit a hospital in Pontoise near Paris on Friday to show support for hospital staff amid the deepening crisis. 

According to the health department, more than 14,000 patients are now hospitalised in France with Covid-19, of whom 2,319 are in intensive care — which means almost half of the country’s intensive care beds are filled by patients with the virus. A further 165 hospital deaths were reported on Thursday, taking the total number of fatalities to 34,210. 

Germany saw new infections climb above 10,000 for the second day running, as a country that got through the first phase of the pandemic relatively unscathed now contemplates a potentially brutal second wave.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s main public health authority, registered 11,242 new coronavirus infections over the previous 24 hours. So far, 9,954 people have died of the disease in Germany.

Ireland, the UK and countries in central and eastern Europe are also facing a grim resurgence in the pandemic. 

Poland is to introduce a range of sweeping restrictions on public life in an effort to stem a drastic rise in coronavirus infections that has put the country’s health system under intense pressure. 

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said public gatherings would be limited to a maximum of five people; restaurants, bars and cafés would have to close for two weeks except for takeaways; and all pupils above the third grade, aged eight, would have to switch to remote learning. 

Medical staff at a drive-through Covid-19 testing centre in Zegrze, Poland, on Tuesday © Pawel Supernak/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

On Friday, Poland reported 13,632 new cases, its worst day of the pandemic so far, and 153 deaths. Almost three-fifths of the country’s 228,318 total cases have come since the start of October. 

The town of Warrington in northern England has meanwhile agreed with the UK government to enter the highest tier 3 level of coronavirus restrictions after a mounting number of cases. The town lies between Liverpool city region and Greater Manchester, which entered tier 3 on Friday. 

Under tier 3 restrictions, pubs that cannot function as restaurants must close, along with betting shops, adult gaming centres, casinos and soft-play centres. People must not socialise with anybody not in their support “bubble” indoors, in any private garden or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events.

Additional reporting by James Shotter in Warsaw and Andy Bounds in Huddersfield

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