As a second wave of coronavirus hits Europe, authorities worry widespread “COVID-fatigue” is setting in.
Eastern European countries are seeing new case records, with the Czech Republic now experiencing the highest per-capita infection rate on the continent, the Associated Press reported. Some Western countries, including Belgium, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain and France, are diagnosing more new cases every day per capita than the US.
“We’re seeing 98,000 cases reported in the last 24 hours. That’s a new regional record. That’s very alarming,” said Robb Butler, executive director of the WHO’s Europe regional office. While part of that is due to increased testing, “It’s also worrisome in terms of virus resurgence.”
In Spain, a state of emergency was declared for Madrid. In Germany, soldiers were called up to help with contact tracing in new hotspots. And in Italy, where a new outdoor mask mandate went into effect this week, concerns about the hospitals filling up are rising for the first time since the spring, when the country was the European epicenter of the pandemic. The governor of the southern region of Campania is threatening a new lockdown if cases keep rising, because COVID hospital beds are growing scarce.
Epidemiologists and residents alike are blaming governments for failing to take advantage of a drop in cases during the summer to prepare adequately for the expected autumn increase.
Testing is still inadequate — lines for tests in Rome stretched 8-10 hours list week, and ICU staffing is still short, forcing health care workers in multiple countries to again face long hours and overcrowded wards. New restrictions like closing indoor bars and restaurants and theaters that are aimed at slowing the spread are increasing tensions and in some countries, like Romania, have led to protests.
“When the state of alarm was abandoned, it was time to invest in prevention, but that hasn’t been done,” lamented Margarita del Val, viral immunology expert with the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center, part of Spain’s top research body, CSIC. During an online forum this week, she added, “We are in the fall wave without having resolved the summer wave.”
WHO issued new advice this week suggesting governments consider social, psychological and emotional issues when issuing new restrictions or lockdowns.
“Fatigue is absolutely natural,” said Butler. “It’s to be expected where we have these prolonged crises or emergencies.”