Coronavirus: Europe is ‘epicentre of pandemic once again’, WHO chief warns after deaths rise by 35%

Europe has become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic again after a sharp spike in deaths and hospital admissions, the World Health Organisation has warned.

The region accounted for nearly half of the 2.8 million new COVID-19 cases reported worldwide last week, WHO said.

Virus-related fatalities are also up 35% on the previous week, European regional director Dr Hans Kluge said.

“Hospitalisations have risen to levels unseen since the spring,” he said on Thursday.

Europe has now confirmed more than 10 million coronavirus cases and 250,000 deaths since the start of the crisis, he added.

“We are at the epicentre of this pandemic once again. At the risk of sounding alarmist I must express our very real concern,” Dr Kluge said in a statement.

The stark warning comes after both France and Germany announced they were going back into lockdown.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country is “deep in the second wave”, while President Emmanuel Macron said France has been “overpowered” by a second phase of the virus.

Germany is reporting around 15,000 new cases a day, with Mr Macron claiming France’s daily infection rate is between 40,000 and 50,000.

On Thursday, videos showed Paris gridlocked, with drivers trying to leave the city before the month-long lockdown began on Friday.

Within Europe, figures show coronavirus cases are growing fastest in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and the Czech Republic.

Spain has voted to extend its state of emergency until May and the regions of Catalonia and La Rioja have closed bars and restaurants.

But the mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, criticised lockdown restrictions on the region of Lombardy, which along with Southern Campania has emerged as the epicentre of Italy‘s second wave.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Thursday, European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen warned against the dangers of “corona fatigue”.

She said: “This time we have two enemies. The coronavirus itself and corona fatigue – that is the growing weariness when it comes to the precautionary measures.”

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