GP Insights # 399, 16 August 2020
On 14 August France declared Paris and its port city Marseille as high-risk zones for the coronavirus as the government reported more than 2,500 new infections for the third day in a row.
On 13 August Germany recorded its highest daily number of new cases in three months, and infections from the COVID-19 are fast increasing in Spain, Netherlands Iceland, Belgium, Greece, and Luxembourg.
The cases since July are increasing the stakes of a possible second wave reckoning in Europe. Spain has emerged to be the worst hit with more than 16,000 cases in the first week of August and two-thirds of cases are concentrated in the northern regions of Catalonia, Aragon, and Madrid. These emerging cases have led to the return of 14-days mandatory quarantine rules and travel warnings in the region. The apprehension has now led to a brief spat between the UK and Spain when the former placed Spain in its mandatory quarantine list. France was added to the UK's 'quarantine upon travel' list early this week. Wearing of masks, banning on smoking and cancelling of marathons are new measures put in place to curb the spread in the region.
What is the background?
First, tourism and holiday returnees are contributing most to the cases. After the first wave ended in June, Europe eagerly reopened its economies before the community virus load reduced permitting holidays with caution. Spain has become a good example of how tourism has become one of the many factors responsible for a spike in coronavirus cases in the region. In the rest of Europe, lifting of the three-month nationwide lockdown, the opening of bars, cafes, nightclubs have led to socializing, making new outbreaks potentially dangerous. As more return from holidays, countries such as Germany, where 1,200 cases are only from holiday returnees, are trying to balance the movement of people, businesses, and the contagion.
Second, past lessons from national lockdown replaced with localized measures. Across Europe, governments are turning away from national lockdowns toward small scale and targeted restrictions in movement. These localized lockdowns are believed to avoid a devastated economy in spring 2021. In the UK, the city of Leicester was brought under lockdown, a model that is increasingly being followed in Catalonia, Madrid in Spain, and Aberdeen in Scotland.
Last, young demography becomes the casualty in the second wave. One key difference from the cases registered in April and in August is that while case numbers are beginning to increase, new daily deaths remain low. This is because unlike the first wave of the pandemic, the epidemiologists have said, most of the new cases in Europe are among the youth, who are less likely to die from the virus. The youths are the holiday returnees and the most socializing group. Even though this appears to be a silver lining, the risk of the contagion to the old demography lies strong.
What does it mean?
First, Europe is still recuperating from the first wave both in terms of deaths and the economy. After the EU recovery fund was announced, the opening through the relaxation of national lockdowns was part of the region's policies against an economic free fall. Currently, the containment of the second wave through localized lockdowns will be another chance at saving the European economy from spiralling into recession.
Second, while new daily cases are still several times lower than they were during Europe's peak in March and April, one thing one knows about COVID-19 is that it can spread exponentially if allowed to get out of control. There is a debate on whether it is a second wave as most cases are yet to translate into a region-wide spike. Lessons lie in tests and trace programme and Italy has become one of the examples who after being the worst-hit countries in the first wave have been able to keep its per capita daily case rate to one of the lowest levels on the continent.