The coronavirus is spreading faster in Europe now than the first wave after taking hold during “one cold week” in September, a French scientific adviser has warned.
As the disease explodes on the continent, epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet issued a stark warning as the Northern Hemisphere faces months of bitter cold.
It comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned the world was at a “critical juncture” in the coronavirus pandemic, with resurgences putting many countries on a dangerous path.
More than 5.3 million people across Europe have contracted the disease and more than 204,000 have died.
Countries like France, Germany and Italy are experiencing record daily numbers, with Italy recording its highest daily tally since the start of the country’s outbreak.
France is nearing one million infections – becoming only the second western European country to do so after Spain- and posted a record daily total of more than 41,000 new infections.
As Europe moves into winter, Dr Fontanet said the virus was “circulating more quickly” than it had during the first wave in the spring.
He said authorities had initially managed to bring the virus under control by the end of the June but numbers started rising again in August.
“And then there was one cold week in September and all the indicators went the wrong way again all over Europe. The virus spreads better in the cold because we live more inside,” he told BFM TV.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said many nations faced the prospect of their health services collapsing.
“We are at a critical juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the northern hemisphere,” Dr Tedros said.
“The next few months are going to be very tough and some countries are on a dangerous track.
“We urge leaders to take immediate action, to prevent further unnecessary deaths, essential health services from collapsing and schools shutting again.”
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said about two dozen European countries were 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”.
Like many other European countries facing a renewed spike in the number of cases since early September, France has ramped up restrictions to contain the disease.
A curfew initially put in place in nine cities including Paris was widened on Thursday to more than two-thirds of the country’s population.
“Hospitals and medical staff will find themselves in a situation they’ve already known,” Dr Fontanet said, referring to the late-March-early April peak, when the hospital system was on the verge of collapse.
Like other medical experts, Dr Fontanet said it takes about two weeks for containment measures to have some impact.