Europe is giving the world a glimpse at what happens when the coronavirus epidemic is brought under control and the economy reopens: the virus bounces back.
Spain, France, Greece and Germany are among the countries that have seen worrying spikes in new Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, a consequence of going back to – sort of – normal after months of lockdowns.
While the continent’s first outbreak in the spring hit the elderly, spreading in care homes and hospitals, these new infection clusters seem to be tied to younger people, who are venturing out into bars, restaurants and other public places.
“There is a true resurgence in cases in several countries as a result of physical distancing measures being relaxed,” the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a statement on Monday.
Spain is at the forefront of this new battle. Earlier this week, Spain overtook the UK as the country with the second highest number of confirmed cases in Europe after Russia. The Spanish Air Force has deployed a field hospital to the city of Zaragoza, capital of the Aragon region, which has seen a spike in Covid-19 infections over the past few weeks.
Data from the country’s Ministry of Health shows that the median age of people testing positive for the coronavirus in Spain has been dropping steadily in recent weeks, suggesting more young people are getting infected.
Younger people are catching the virus now
Other European countries are seeing the same trend.
According to ECDC, 40% of people who contracted the disease in Europe between January and May were age 60 or older. But in June and July, this age group accounted for just 17.3% of all cases. The largest proportion of new cases in the summer, 19.5%, were reported among people age 20 to 29, the ECDC said. The median age fell from 54 in January to May to 39 years in June to July.
The French Health Minister Olivier Véran said the virus is now circulating among the country’s young people. On Wednesday, France saw its biggest jump in daily new cases since the lockdown easing started, with 2,524 new cases in 24 hours, according to the ministry.
However, Véran said the impact on the health system isn’t as bad as it was in the spring when France experienced similar infection rates.
“The proportion of complicated cases is much lower,” Véran told France 2 TV channel, adding that the age of those getting infected is one reason behind this. “Patients diagnosed with [Covid-19] now are younger, 20 to 40, and less vulnerable,” he explained.
Greece too is seeing new spikes in cases. It has registered the highest daily increase of Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began on Wednesday, with 262 new infections recorded by Greece’s National Public Health Organization.
According to a tweet from Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s health minister, the average age of those who have been infected in August has dropped to 36.
Compared to other European countries, Greece has managed to keep the virus under better control over recent months. It has reported 6,177 cases so far, a fraction of the numbers seen elsewhere. The low infection rates have allowed Greece to welcome tourists from the rest of Europe, marketing itself as a safe country. Now, in an attempt to stop further outbreaks, the Greek government is shutting that door a little.
Starting earlier this week, visitors coming from Spain, Sweden, Belgium, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands need a negative test to enter the country. There’s also a new midnight curfew for bars and restaurants in 16 areas in Greece.
Meanwhile, Germany’s daily new infections numbers have soared back above 1,000, following several days of lower rates. The country’s center for disease prevention, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 1,226 new infections Wednesday, the highest since May.
As German schools start to reopen, the government is urging people to follow the rules of social distancing and wear masks. It has also started a massive campaign of free tests for anyone entering the country.
Italy, the ground zero of Europe’s spring outbreak, has so far managed to buck the trend. But faced with new outbreaks in other countries, Italy has put in place measures designed to stop the virus from being imported from abroad. Like much of the rest of Europe, Italy is still not allowing travelers from most of the world to enter the country freely.
But starting Thursday, the restrictions will apply even to people coming from countries Italy has previously deemed to be safe. Travelers who have been to Croatia, Greece, Malta, and Spain in the past 14 days – even if they just transited through – can only enter Italy if they have tested negative to up to 72 hours before arrival.
Further north, the UK last week introduced new quarantine requirements for people coming from Belgium following spikes in cases there. It also announced several local lockdowns in parts of northern England where new outbreaks have been identified.
CNN’s Chris Liakos in Kefalonia, Livia Borghese in Rome, Fred Pleitgen in Berlin and Sharon Braithwaite, James Frater and Sarah Dean in London contributed reporting.