WHO says parts of Europe reporting ‘worrying’ rise in coronavirus hospitalizations

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A patient under respiratory assistance is escorted to the Strasbourg University Hospital by members of the medical staff of the SAMU-SMUR emergency services who wear protective suits and facemasks, in Strasbourg, on March 16, 2020 during a COVID-19 outbreak hitting Europe.

Patrick Hertzog | AFP | Getty Images

Some European countries, including the U.K. and France, are reporting a rapid rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations, a “worrying trend” ahead of the influenza season approaching the Northern Hemisphere, a top official from the World Health Organization said. 

“We haven’t even started to hit the flu season yet, so we’re worried that these increasing numbers of hospitalization and ICU are really going to overburden and already burdened system,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday. 

In the U.K., hospitalizations have doubled every eight days, Kerkhove said. The U.K. is reporting more than 3,300 new cases per day, based on a seven-day average, a steady increase compared with a low of roughly 350 new daily cases in July, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Britain is considering whether to impose another national lockdown as hospital admissions and infection rates grow in northern England and London, Reuters reported Friday. 

Parts of France have reached capacity in their intensive-care units, Kerkhove said. France reported more than nearly 10,400 new cases on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University, among the highest daily count the country has reported so far and more than its peak in the Spring. 

“This is really worrying because as we hit the flu season — as we start to see other viruses circulating, respiratory viruses circulating — it’s very difficult to distinguish Covid from flu from other respiratory pathogens that are circulating,” Kerkhove said. “And if the beds are full with Covid patients, it will be very challenging for the health care system to deal with other respiratory diseases.” 

European health officials have warned for weeks about the rising number of Covid-19 cases. More than half of European countries have reported a 10% or greater increase in cases in the past two weeks and, of those, seven have seen newly reported cases increase more than two-fold, WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said Thursday in a press briefing. 

“We have a very serious situation unfolding before us,” Kluge said.

Kerkhove said more widespread testing and better surveillance methods can attribute to part of the rise in case counts across Europe. However, she added that as economies have reopened, health officials have reported a growing number of infections among those between 15 and 44 years old. 

“Part of that has to do with the way people are socializing, people are going out and about and living their lives and trying to get back to what is this new normal,” she said. “If the virus has an opportunity to spread, it can infect many people, it can reach those vulnerable people and those vulnerable people have a higher chance of needing hospitalization and needing intensive care.”

Some epidemiologists from the U.S., France and Spain told CNBC that “pandemic fatigue” has set in across Europe after outbreaks were mostly contained over the summer. 

“When you look at the worldwide map of cases, you see that even if you control the virus in your country, the virus is still there, so it can come back,” Dominique Costagliola, an epidemiologist at the INSERM research institute in Paris, told CNBC. “Don’t think that because you are in a better situation at the moment, you can forget to pay attention to the virus.”

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