WHO warns Europe virus surge of ‘great concern’

International Desk
16 October 2020, Fri
Published: 12:34

WHO warns Europe virus surge of ‘great concern’

European countries have unveiled tough new measures to try to curb a surge in coronavirus infections which the World Health Organization warned Thursday is of "great concern".

Underscoring the disruption wrought by Covid-19 even in the corridors of power, US presidential candidate Joe Biden's running mate Kamala Harris suspended travel after a staffer contracted the disease and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen abruptly left a summit in Brussels for a similar reason.

And in France, police searched the home of the health minister as part of a probe into the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, as new daily cases topped 30,000 for the first time.

A map published Thursday by the EU's ECDC disease control agency handed a red label for high rates of transmission and positive testing to more than half the 31 countries it monitors, which include non-EU members.

As the disease marches on relentlessly, millions in England are facing tighter restrictions, including a ban on household mixing.

Meanwhile Queen Elizabeth II made a first public appearance outside a royal residence since the start of the pandemic, going unmasked during a visit to a top-secret British government research lab.

Across the Channel, a curfew is to be imposed in Paris and eight other French cities and in Germany there are new limits on people gathering at events.

Announcing a partial lockdown in "red" zones including major cities, Poland's government asked people to work from home if possible, while Switzerland's health minister Alain Berset said the situation there "is deteriorating faster than elsewhere".

Both countries are facing record levels of new infections.
- 'Great concern' at WHO -

With nearly 1.1 million coronavirus deaths and close to 40 million cases worldwide, countries in many parts of the world are facing tough choices on how to control the disease without the economic and social devastation wrought by nationwide lockdowns.

In India, where the pandemic has upended a movie-mad culture, some cinemas were allowed to reopen Thursday to try to attract punters back to the cash-strapped silver screen.

Israel, meanwhile, said it was lifting an unpopular ban on citizens flying out of the country in an easing of a second nationwide lockdown.

At a press conference in Copenhagen, the WHO's regional director for Europe Hans Kluge told reporters it was time to "step up the measures" as rising case numbers on the continent were of "great concern."

But he said the situation was not as bad as the peak in March and April, and stressed that full-on lockdowns "where every corner of our society and economy has been halted" should be avoided.

"The collateral damage on the people was too much," he said, encouraging governments not to "hold back with relatively smaller actions".

People's mental health, the risk of domestic violence and children's education should all be taken into consideration, he added.

Britain hopes a local three-tier system will fit the bill, with London heading into level two at the weekend and northwestern city Liverpool the only area in the top-level, with strict limits on social mixing including the closure of pubs, according to AFP reports.

breakingnews/fas