Europe Scrambles to Stop Second Wave of COVID-19

Emma Gaya winces with pain as the nurse at her local clinic inserts a swab deep into her nose.Gaya had been suffering from a fever and fears she may have been infected with the coronavirus. Her hometown of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia is one of several in Spain’s northeast Catalonia region to see a rise in infections.The public health clinic is conducting around 25 tests each day and has detected a dozen cases in the past two weeks, a rate considered high by epidemiologists.“It pains me that we could go right back where we started,” Gaya said, fearing she may pass the virus on to her 70-year-old mother. “I think we had done well. Now, I don’t know if we are doing it well.”A healthcare worker uses a swab to collect a sample from a man testing for the novel coronavirus COVID-19 at a primary health care center in Barcelona on Aug. 3, 2020.Following the rise in infections that began more than two weeks ago, Catalonia’s semi-autonomous government reimposed restrictions on some public gatherings. Those measures are slowly being eased, as authorities say infection rates are falling again.That has not stopped several European states from imposing travel restrictions. Britain is enforcing a 14-day quarantine on all people returning from Spain, a painful blow to the already battered Spanish economy. Tourism makes up 12% of Spain’s GDP, and some 18 million Britons visited the country last year.Spain is not alone. Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Germany are among European nations seeing an uptick in infection rates, as fears grow of a second wave of infections.A sign reading “wearing a mask is mandatory” is seen in a street amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Antwerp, Belgium, July 27, 2020.The city of Antwerp is at the center of Belgium’s outbreak, accounting for roughly half of all new cases. Local officials say the government lifted the nationwide lockdown too soon in May, ignoring localized hot spots like Antwerp.“If you don’t respect physical distancing, this infection spreads around very easily,” said Pierre Van Damme, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Antwerp.“And then again, it (requires) major measures to start controlling it again.”Such measures have been reimposed in three cities in northern Britain, where members of different households are banned from gathering indoors. The government said Friday there are an estimated 4,900 new infections every day across the country.It is vital that governments take swift action to contain these outbreaks, Dr. Peter Drobac of the University of Oxford told VOA on Monday. “If countries are responding, slowing down their reopening, making targeted changes to slow the spread of the virus, hopefully we can keep things in check before it escapes onto that exponential growth pathway.”Customers eat at restaurant next to signs indicating discounts off food, in central London, Aug. 3, 2020.A wider easing of lockdown measures across Britain has been put on hold, with theaters, casinos and bowling alleys among businesses forced to remain closed.“We’re going to have to make difficult choices as societies about the things we value the most,” Drobac said. “If, for example, our priority is to get our kids back in school in September, it may mean that we really don’t want to have people in pubs and indoor restaurants right now.”Germany has also seen an uptick in infections. In Berlin, around 20,000 people gathered Saturday to protest lockdown measures. Authorities are prosecuting the protesting organizers for breaking hygiene and social distancing rules.Meanwhile in some parts of Europe, including Greece and Italy, infection rates remain low, and tourists are returning.“The coronavirus is not something that greatly concerns us,” said Athens resident Thanassis Yanellis, as he prepared to board a ferry at the Port of Piraeus on Saturday bound for the Greek island of Aegina. “We mostly look forward to relaxing and resting.”

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