WHO Says Coronavirus Outbreak in Europe May Be Approaching Peak
Paramedics wearing protective face masks wheel a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance into the emergency department of the 12 de Octubre hospital in Madrid, Spain. (Photographer: Paul Hanna/Bloomberg)

WHO Says Coronavirus Outbreak in Europe May Be Approaching Peak

(Bloomberg) --

The World Health Organization said there are signs of some stabilization in Europe’s coronavirus outbreak as the hardest-hit country in the region, Italy, reported the smallest number of new cases in almost two weeks.

Mike Ryan, head of health emergencies at the WHO, said Monday that’s “our fervent hope” Italy and Spain are approaching a peak, and that European lockdowns which started several weeks ago will start to bear fruit. New cases now reflect exposure to the disease about two weeks earlier, he said.

“In the same way when we’re told that we’re looking at galaxies through a telescope that we’re seeing life from a billion years ago, we’re seeing a reality that existed before,” Ryan said on Monday, urging countries to step up efforts to find and isolate patients. “It won’t go down by itself. We need countries to focus on what is the strategy.”

WHO Says Coronavirus Outbreak in Europe May Be Approaching Peak

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced plans for a tightening of restrictions on public life, ordering those who work in non-essential services to stay home during the Easter period. The country reported a slight decline in coronavirus fatalities from the preview day. Austria, Greece and Cyprus followed by stepping up their own measures.

Russia moved toward a lockdown across the world’s largest country by area to halt the virus’s spread. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s ordered the capital’s 12.7 million people to stay home, with limited exceptions for emergencies, in the strictest measures yet imposed in a major Russian city.

Italy has the highest death toll from the virus, with more than 11,000 fatalities and almost 102,000 confirmed cases, second only to the U.S.

Lombardy, the region around Milan that’s most heavily hit, registered the smallest advance in cases since March 13. Health Minister Roberto Speranza said late Monday that the government will follow the recommendation of its scientific advisers to extend the lockdown at least until Easter.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is fighting to hold Italian society together. Preventing unrest in the so-called Mezzogiorno, the underdeveloped southern region that’s long lagged behind the wealthy north, has become the government’s top priority, according to Italian officials who asked not to be named.

Police have been deployed on the streets of Sicily’s capital, Palermo, after reports that gangs are using social media to plot attacks on stores.

“We need to act fast, more than fast,” Mayor Leoluca Orlando told the La Stampa newspaper. “Distress could turn into violence.”

WHO Says Coronavirus Outbreak in Europe May Be Approaching Peak

As Italy’s lockdown enters its fourth week, besides the extension of the lockdown, Conte is also working on a new stimulus package for mid-April worth at least 30 billion euros ($33 billion), following initial measures worth 25 billion euros, the officials said.

The euro area will emerge from the crisis with much higher debt levels, and government policy must take care to prevent this from fragmenting the bloc, Eurogroup President Mario Centeno said in a letter seen by Bloomberg that was sent to finance ministers.

A group of Chinese experts who traveled to Italy to advise officials there said the government needs to shift to mass quarantining of coronavirus patients with mild symptoms instead of letting them isolate at home.

Doctors in Wuhan, where the disease first emerged in December, made the same error early on in the outbreak, said Liang Zong’An, head of the respiratory department at the West China Hospital at Sichuan University.

Back then, it was not well understood how infectious the virus can be even in those who don’t seem very sick. But researchers now know that those with mild symptoms who are told to stay at home usually risked passing the virus to family members, as well as to others outside their homes as some still moved around freely.

“Due to lockdown, most of the transmission that’s actually happening in many countries now is happening in the household at family level,” Ryan of the WHO said. “Now we need to go and look in families and find those people that may be sick and remove them and isolate them in a safe and dignified manner.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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