Spanish health officials have warned the country could already be experiencing a “second wave” of coronavirus, as France, Germany and Belgium all reported steep rises in their number of cases.
Countries across Europe have reminded people of the need for vigilance amid rising cases as the summer holiday season continues.
Spain’s health ministry logged 971 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday – the highest daily toll since the state of emergency was lifted at the end of June – and said there were 281 active outbreaks across the country.
María José Sierra, the deputy head of Spain’s centre for health emergencies, said that while the curve had been flattened, “community transmission” was being seen in north-eastern areas.
“It could already be a second wave, but that’s not the most important thing,” Sierra said. “The most important thing is that we keep following what’s going on, see what measures are necessary, and take them early.”
She also said people needed to remember the incidence of the virus had tripled in just two weeks, from 8.76 cases per 100,000 people on 3 July to 27.39 per 100,000. “Obviously, the curve is going up, but let’s wait to see what kind of situation we’re in,” she added.
Nearly 8,000 cases have been diagnosed in Catalonia over the past 14 days – accounting for almost half of the 16,410 detected across Spain.
Catalonia’s public health secretary, Josep Maria Argimon, said the situation in and around Barcelona was “at a critical moment” and called on people to heed the regional government’s request not to leave their homes unless strictly necessary.
There are growing fears the virus is being spread by people going to bars and nightclubs, and that restrictions may be needed to curb the rise in cases.
On Thursday, the government of the south-eastern region of Murcia ordered the 32,000 inhabitants of Totana back into the second phase of lockdown de-escalation after 55 cases were traced to a bar in the town.
Madrid’s regional government said on Friday it planned to rethink the guidelines on the number of people allowed to meet up at night.
“We’re going to introduce measures on nightlife, including limiting the number of people allowed on bar and restaurant terraces or other meeting places because the virus likes movement and large gatherings,” said the region’s deputy public health minister, Antonio Zapatero.
The regional government is also urging the central government to introduce more stringent controls at Madrid’s Barajas airport after it emerged that 77 people had arrived there with the virus since May.
France’s national health authority, Santé Publique, reported 1,062 new cases on Thursday and said that while there had been an increase among the over-75s and people in care homes, a rise had also been reported in cases among “young adults”.
The authority said there had been “a slackening of the application of barrier gestures” and reminded people that physical distancing needed to be maintained.
“During the summer and holidays, it may seem artificial to greet each other at a distance, talk from a distance, wash hands regularly and wear masks in enclosed spaces, but this individual and collective effort is crucial to prevent the virus from encroaching on our freedom and the epidemic from rebounding,” it said.
On Friday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, held a meeting of the country’s defence council to discuss the increase in cases and consider fresh measures including whether to tighten controls on the borders with Belgium and Spain and possible quarantine measures for international passengers at airports.
Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 815 new cases on Friday, compared with 583 a week ago and 395 the week before.
Excluding recent outbreaks at meat processing plants, the rise was the biggest since mid-May. Figures tend to be higher on Fridays, due to reported cases stacking up during the week.
More than 40% of current cases are in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, but other states are also showing above-average rises.
Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit from the Bernhard-Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg said the figures appeared to indicate an increase across the population rather than in specific locations such as around meat processing plants. If that was the case, it would make the virus more difficult to contain, he told Der Spiegel.
“We need to see whether this is to do with large gatherings, that are now allowed, the reopening of kindergartens and schools, or is it to do with people returning from their holidays?” he said.
People returning to Germany from the Balkans, Turkey and Mallorca have tested positive for the virus.
The RKI has put 100 countries on a list of risk areas, including the US, Israel and Luxembourg. The health ministry is widely expected to announce that tests for people returning from risk areas will soon be obligatory.
In Belgium, where the number of new weekly infections has risen by 89%, officials said a three-year-old girl had become the country’s youngest known victim.
The health spokesman Boudewijn Catry said three people were dying each day in Belgium from Covid-19, adding that recent deaths included those of the toddler and an 18-year-old.
Catry said the young girl had “severe” pre-existing conditions, but warned against complacency among the healthy, pointing out that 85% of new cases diagnosed last week were among people under 60.
“It’s true that it’s rare that a young person dies of Covid-19, but it’s clear that no one is immune,” he said.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report