The number of weekly coronavirus cases in Europe has exceeded those during the first peak in March, triggering a grave warning from top experts.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of a “very serious” situation in Europe, where the weekly tally was more than 300,000 Covid-19 patients last week.
Dr Hans Kluge, WHO’s Europe chief, said more than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10% increase in cases in the past two weeks.
Of those, seven countries have seen the number of new cases double over the same period, he added.
Strict lockdown measures resulted in a drop in infections – with an “all-time low” in June – but restrictions have been eased and cases have since been rapidly increasing in countries such as the UK, France and Spain.
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Dr Kluge said: “We have a very serious situation unfolding before us.
“Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March.
“Last week, the region’s weekly tally exceeded 300,000 patients.
“More than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10 per cent increase in cases in the past two weeks.
“Of those, seven countries have seen newly reported cases increase more than two-fold in the same period.”
He added: “In the spring and early summer we were able to see the impact of strict lockdown measures. Our efforts, our sacrifices, paid off.
“In June cases hit an all-time low. The September case numbers, however, should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.
“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region.”
Dr Kluge delivered the stark warning just days after he suggested Britons and other Europeans shouldn’t fear returning to their workplaces despite the threat of Covid-19.
He told the Daily Mail that it is important for people to return to offices and get out of the house and enjoy themselves for the sake of the economy and their mental health.
He said the recent increase in cases in Britain was not surprising, and it shouldn’t stop the country from gradually opening up.
Dr Kluge said there was a danger people are “too scared” about returning to normal, and it is important for people to get out an have face-to-face contact.
He said: “It’s OK to spread fun, but not to spread the virus.
“There are ways of not doing so, so not going with mass gatherings and going instead with the physical distancing. But we have to be positive, it’s not the end of the world.”
He added: “It’s normal that if you open up, you are going to see spikes, so that’s nothing surprising.”
The expert said a number of countries have learnt how to apply restrictions in a localised, tailored way to curb the spread of the virus.
But he warned that countries must open up because lockdowns and restrictions have been “disastrous” for people’s mental health.