Lockdowns and other restrictions are starting to stem the spread of Covid-19 in some, but not all, European countries, authorities have said, and the continent’s hospitals remain under heavy pressure that is unlikely to ease for some time yet.
In Germany, which began a “lockdown light” on 2 November, Lothar Wieler, the head of the country’s disease control agency, RKI, said on Thursday the infections curve was flattening, showing “we are not helpless against this virus”.
Measures such as social distancing and mask wearing were helping, Wieler said, after the country reported 21,866 new cases over the last 24 hours, fewer than the record 23,399 set on Saturday, with the reproduction or R number falling below 1 to 0.89.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” he said, because “the curve is rising somewhat less steeply, it is flattening”. But he added that scientists were not yet sure this was “a stable development” and it was too early to assess what effect the new measures were having.
Wieler said there were more Covid patients in intensive care than in April and the situation in hospitals could worsen over the coming weeks. “We must prevent the situation from deteriorating,” he said.
The health minister, Jens Spahn, stressed that Covid-19 “takes a long time to brake”, adding that even if numbers were brought down now, it would not mean people “can just start going everywhere again in December or January”.
France, which is a fortnight into a stricter lockdown, was also starting to regain control, the prime minister, Jean Castex, said, despite 60% of people surveyed in a poll published on Thursday admitting they had broken the rules at least once.
Castex said infection numbers were down by about 16% this week compared with their level at the end of October, and that France’s R number had fallen below 1 to between 0.8 and 0.9. “Our lockdown strategy ... seems to be producing the expected results, but we must remain cautious,” he said.
The prime minister said it would be “irresponsible to lift or relax the current measures in place … at the risk of having to return to lockdown in December”. France’s ICU wards were operating at 90% of their capacity before the crisis, he said.
The peak of the pandemic in French hospitals should arrive early next week, hopefully leading to a gradual relaxation of lockdown measures from the beginning of December, allowing families at least to spend Christmas and new year together – but without big parties, he said.