After months of complacency, European leaders are beginning to acknowledge the scale of the unfolding coronavirus crisis. The number of new infections in Europe has been doubling, on average, every 72 hours. More than 30,000 people have tested positive for the disease, and 4% of them have died (as of March 12). Pictured: A man receives assistance at a pre-triage medical tent in front of a hospital in Cremona, Italy, on March 4, 2020. (Photo by Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)
The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has now reached more than 45 countries in Europe, where (as of March 12) more than 30,000 people have tested positive for the disease, according to a Gatestone Institute tally based on calculations from European health ministries.
The disease is spreading fast: more than 28,000 coronavirus cases (93% of all cases) in Europe were confirmed during just the first twelve days of March. The number of new cases has been doubling, on average, every 72 hours.
Italy is Europe's worst-affected country, followed by Spain, France and Germany. Twelve other European countries have reported coronavirus cases in the triple digits: Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Austria, Greece, the Czech Republic, Finland and Iceland.
In Europe as a whole, more than 1,200 people — 4.0% of those confirmed as having been infected — have died from COVID-19.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), in a risk assessment, warned that the actual number of COVID-19 cases in Europe could be far higher due to under-detection, particularly among mild or asymptomatic cases that do not lead to a visit to the hospital.
In an interview with Britain's Channel 4 news, Dr. Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a Norway-based international alliance for developing vaccines against infectious diseases, explained the long-term dangers of the COVID-19, not only for Europe, but globally:
"The threat is very significant... There are many epidemiologists who talk about the potential of the virus in terms of attack rates globally that could be between 50% and 70% of the global population.
"It is important to recognize that the virus is here and that it has tremendous potential to be disruptive, to cause high rates of illness and even high rates of death....
"I don't think we are dealing with the flu here... this is a virus that is now circulating in a population that has absolutely no immunity to it.... You might have an attack rate that is three times higher than seasonal flu with a mortality rate that is ten times higher.
"The most concerning thing about this virus is the combination of infectiousness and the ability to cause severe disease or death. We have not since 1918 — since the Spanish flu — seen a virus that combined those two qualities in the same way. We have seen very lethal viruses — Ebola's mortality rate in some cases is greater than 80% — but they don't have the infectiousness that this virus has. They don't have the potential to explode and spread globally....
"I think that what we are seeing is a virus that is many, many times more lethal than the flu, and a population that is completely vulnerable to it, and we are seeing its ability to explode. It has increased in some countries over the last two weeks by one thousand-fold and many countries are seeing ten-fold or one hundred-fold increases in cases. There is nothing to stop that expansion from continuing unless those societies move aggressively, engage their publics, implement multiple public health interventions, including introducing social distancing....
"We need to modify our behavior. We need to start practicing that now. We have to modify our behavior in ways that reduces the risk of transmitting the virus.... One challenge that we face is that people who are young and are generally healthy won't perceive personal risk and they will govern their behavior based on what they perceive their personal risk to be. I think we need to start thinking in terms of the social risk. If I have a cold and I go to work and shake hands with my older colleague who has a chronic medical condition, I could be responsible for that colleague's death. We all need to think about our responsibility to each other as we govern our behavior. We can't view the epidemic in terms of our personal risk, we need to act collectively in a cooperative manner....
"I don't think it's a crazy analogy to compare this to World War 2... I think this is an appropriate analogy and the mindset that people need to get into....
"We don't see any way that a vaccine can be available much more rapidly than 12 to 18 months, and even it if were to be available in 12 and 18 months, that would literally be the world record for developing and delivering a vaccine. We would not have seven billion doses of that vaccine in 12 months.
"This is a virus that is going to be with us for some time. There are many epidemiologists who believe that this virus is likely to become globally endemic and be with us in perpetuity.... I think this is a virus that we are going to be dealing with for years.
"This is the most frightening disease that I have ever encountered in my career. That includes Ebola, MERS and SARS. It's frightening because of the combination between infectiousness and a lethality that appears to be many-fold higher than flu."
After months of complacency, European leaders are beginning to acknowledge the scale of the unfolding crisis.
In Germany, Europe's most populous country, Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her first public comments on the coronavirus, warned that more than two-thirds of the population — 58 million people — could get infected. During a press conference on March 11, nearly three weeks after the crisis in Germany began, she admitted:
"The virus has arrived in Europe, it is here, and we must all understand that. As long as there is no immunity in the population, no vaccines and no therapy, then a high percentage of the population — experts say 60% to 70% — will become infected."
Merkel said that her government's top priority was to slow down the contagion to prevent a collapse of the German healthcare system. Nevertheless, Germany has not implemented social distancing measures such as those in other European countries, including Italy, Spain and France.
In Britain, a leaked government report estimated that in a worst-case scenario, up to 80% of the population — 53 million people — could become infected with the coronavirus, and that half a million Britons could die from COVID-19. A survey conducted by The Doctors' Association UK, a trade association for British doctors, found that only 1% of doctors in the country believe that the National Health Service is prepared to deal with a major outbreak of coronavirus.
In Ireland, one of Europe's smaller countries with only 4.8 million inhabitants, healthcare officials said that 40% of the population — 1.9 million people — will almost certainly become infected with the coronavirus. Most of those would become sick within a three-week concentrated burst, which would place "intense pressure" on the healthcare system. Those figures were effectively confirmed by Paul Reid, CEO of the Health Service Executive (HSE), which manages the delivery of all public health services in Ireland.
In Spain, where the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus has increased exponentially in recent days, hospitals are overwhelmed and the healthcare systems in the most affected regions are in danger of collapse. In Andalusia and the Basque Country, hundreds of doctors and nurses have been quarantined to prevent hospitals from becoming centers of infection.
In Madrid, the head of the regional government, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, said that medical professionals expected a significant increase in coronavirus cases this coming weekend and that the spread of the virus would peak over the next three weeks.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron said that the coronavirus epidemic was the country's worst health crisis in a century and announced that schools throughout the country would close indefinitely beginning next week. "We are just at the beginning of this crisis," Macron said. "In spite of all our efforts to break it, this virus is continuing to propagate and to accelerate."
In Italy, more than 12,000 people are infected with coronavirus. On March 9, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered a nation-wide lockdown. The quarantine of Europe's third-most populous country, with 60 million inhabitants, bans non-essential travel to, from and within Italy; prohibits all public events; and requires that people maintain a distance from each other of at least one meter (three feet). The restrictions were subsequently extended: all restaurants and bars, as well as all stores, except for grocery stores and pharmacies, have been ordered closed.
Dr. Daniele Macchini, who works at the Humanitas Gavazzeni hospital in Bergamo, ground zero of the coronavirus crisis in Italy, warned about the dangers of complacency:
"After thinking for a long time if and what to write about what is happening to us, I felt that the silence was not at all responsible. I will therefore try to convey to people more distant from our reality, what we are experiencing in Bergamo during these pandemic days from Covid-19.
"I myself looked with some amazement at the reorganization of the entire hospital in the previous week, when our current enemy was still in the shadows: the wards slowly 'emptied,' the elective activities interrupted, the intensive therapies freed to create as many beds as possible. All this rapid transformation brought into the corridors of the hospital an atmosphere of surreal silence and emptiness that we still did not understand, waiting for a war that was yet to begin and that many (including me) were not so sure would ever come with such ferocity.
"Well, the situation is now nothing short of dramatic. No other words come to mind. The war has literally exploded, and the battles are uninterrupted day and night. One after the other, the unfortunate people come to the emergency room. What they have is much more than the complications of a flu. Let's stop saying it's a bad flu.
"Now, however, that need for beds in all its drama has arrived. One after another, the departments that had been emptied are filling up at an impressive rate. The display boards with the names of the sick, of different colors depending on the operating unit they belong to, are now all red and instead of the surgical operation there is the diagnosis, which is always the damn same: bilateral interstitial pneumonia. Now, tell me which flu virus causes such a rapid tragedy?
"An epidemiological disaster is taking place. There are no more surgeons, urologists, orthopedists, we are only doctors who suddenly have become part of a single team to face this tsunami that has overwhelmed us."
On March 11, U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced a 30-day ban on continental Europeans traveling to the United States. "The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots," Trump said. "As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe." The restrictions, which will go into effect at midnight on March 13, will not apply to the United Kingdom, and exemptions will be made for U.S. citizens. "This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history," he said.