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European agency: spiking virus caseload is ‘major health threat’


Europe’s infectious disease agency on Friday warned that a regional spike in new coronavirus cases “represents a major threat to public health” and urged authorities to step up measures.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said that about two dozen European countries are now classified as having high epidemiological risk.

Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Liechtenstein and Norway were the only exceptions with a “stable epidemiological situation,” the ECDC said.

Governments and health authorities were urged to ensure physical distancing between individuals, allow people to work remotely and limit the number of people at indoor or outdoor gatherings.

The agency underlined that it was crucial “to re-motivate people to follow recommendations.” Public health authorities should also “reinforce healthcare capacity to manage potentially high numbers of Covid-19 patients” and “minimize the risk of transmission in long-term care facilities.”

The rise in cases suggested increased transmission of the virus rather than increased testing, according to the ECDC.

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The latest ECDC assessment came as a number of countries and regions in Europe tightened anti-virus restrictions.
In the Italian capital Rome, authorities said they would close a number of popular outdoor evening hangout locations on weekends.

Similar curbs are in place in other Italian cities, including Turin, Genoa and Palermo.
Several Italian regions also switched to online lessons for high-school students, in a bid to reduce rush-hour crowds on public transport.

Meanwhile Germany, which has been recording higher daily infection numbers than at the start of the pandemic in March, has extended mask rules. Night-time curfews have been introduced in a number of areas struggling to contain outbreaks, including the capital Berlin.

Neighbouring Poland said restaurants were to close for a period of two weeks, but would be able to offer take-out and delivery.

Public gatherings would be capped at five people, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, while school pupils over the age of 10 would return to remote learning.

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In Greece, authorities have ordered a night-time curfew from Saturday in coronavirus hotspots including regions home to the country’s two largest cities, Athens and Thessaloniki.

Masks were also made mandatory in all public areas, the government said. Elsewhere, Slovenia said it will return to a partial, week-long lockdown on Saturday closing malls, restaurants, hotels, most shops and student dormitories.
Over the past week, Slovenia banned all travel between the country’s 12 regions, limited public gathering to six people and banned all events, including weddings and religious services.

The Stockholm-based ECDC covers the European Union, Britain, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
From March 1 to October 18, the countries covered by the ECDC reported 4.8 million cases and 202,551 deaths due to Covid-19. This represented 12 per cent of all cases worldwide, and almost a fifth of all globally reported deaths, the ECDC said.

Other measures it listed included using face masks, avoiding non-essential travel and for travellers to quarantine upon returning home.

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The closure of public spaces and introducing “stay-at-home recommendations” were labelled “a last resort” but could also be used at local or regional level, the ECDC said.

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