After several weeks of restrictions in Europe, there’s now evidence that the number of coronavirus cases is starting to slow.
The virus seems to be past its peak in some countries. But does this mean things will start to improve? Will restrictions be lifted in the coming weeks?
What do the figures look like?
In Spain, which has the highest number of confirmed cases in Europe at 137,000, the figures show new cases are slowing down. Plus, the daily death toll just fell for the fourth consecutive day – at 637. This is the lowest number for nearly two weeks.
The infection rate is falling consistently, which is good news, as it shows the lockdown measures are working. Spain has been in complete lockdown for over three weeks, now.
Figures in Italy tell a similar story. The country has the highest death rate in the world at over 15,000. However, the trend is similar to Spain, and figures show infections and deaths are beginning to fall – even in Lombardy, which is the worst affected region.
Italians have also been under restrictions for three weeks, with the majority of bars, restaurants, and shops closed and citizens unable to leave their homes except for essential trips.
Yesterday, there were 525 COVID-19 related deaths reported, which is the lowest since the 19th March. It’s also a dip of 23% from Saturday, which saw 681 fatalities.
In France, the death toll fell in the last 24 hours, as did hospital admissions. The authorities are urging people to continue with the lockdown restrictions. And, elsewhere in Europe, leaders are pointing to these figures and encouraging citizens to continue to follow social distancing rules.
What happens next?
Although there are signs the spread of the virus is slowing, there’s still a long way to go.
In Spain, the authorities are planning to extend the lockdown until the end of April, but say they want to gradually lift restrictions after that.
At the weekend, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the country was “close to passing the peak of infections” and some restrictions could be lifted after Easter.
Officials have also suggested they plan to increase testing to include those without symptoms, and to continue with quarantine measures in the worst affected areas.
Italian officials have also said they might continue easing restrictions in the coming weeks as long as the death toll continues to fall.
However, the second phase could be tricky, and may include gradually opening businesses while maintaining some social distancing. For example, people may have to stay 2 metres apart in public and wear face masks.
In addition, anyone with symptoms – however mild – would need to self isolate for two weeks and report their illness to the health authorities.
Going forward, European countries are hoping to develop blood testing kits to see how many people have antibodies to the virus, how much immunity this gives them, and whether those with antibodies can still spread the disease to others.
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