As coronavirus cases rise in several European countries, governments are scrambling to contain new emerging clusters of the virus, and some citizens are wondering if countries are prepared to prevent a potential “second wave”.
Many experts agree that Europe is experiencing a resurgence in cases, as people are more relaxed about social distancing during the summer months.
France has seen a 78 per cent increase in its weekly COVID-19 incidence rate per 100,000 people. New cases have increased from a couple of hundred per day to more than 1,000.
Some of this is due to expanded testing and locating of asymptomatic cases, particularly in young adults. Health officials have warned that more young people are testing positive for the virus as they ignore social distancing.
Spain is once again a European hotspot with higher infection rates in its northeastern regions near Barcelona, which prompted officials to issue more restrictions.
But is this the beginning of the “second wave” of the virus with widespread transmission like Europe’s first waves that forced countries to go into lockdown?
Releasing restrictions means a resurgence of cases
“The assumptions that the disease would naturally come in waves is an assumption that’s based on previous pandemics with other respiratory viruses like influenza,” said Dr Mike Ryan, the director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies programme.
“What is clear is that countries that have implemented control measures have suppressed the virus and when those measures to suppress the virus are lifted the virus returns,” he said.
Lifting restrictions on the virus inevitably causes the virus to come back but social distancing measures and testing and tracing methods can help contain a large resurgence of the virus that would resemble Europe’s first waves in March and April.
“I think that we should consider ourselves always at risk until we either [have] immunity, which no community has, or we have a vaccine. And first or second wave isn’t super accurate in describing that,” said Sarah Fortune, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, at a press conference.
That’s because as long as the virus is present in the community, people should not be letting up on social distancing so that the case numbers stay low, experts say.
“At the moment the numbers are still very small, but we see an increase in many European countries, so it could be the beginning of a second wave,” said Professor Jürgen Haas, Head of Infection Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.