WHO warns of ‘alarming’ virus spread in Europe

The World Health Organization on Thursday warned of “alarming rates of transmission” of Covid-19 across Europe and cautioned against shortening quarantine periods as countries in the region scrambled to find ways to reduce infections without resorting to new lockdowns.

The WHO’s regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said a September surge — Europe set a new record last week, with some 54,000 cases recorded in 24 hours — “should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.”

“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region,” he told an online news conference from Copenhagen.

Across Europe, governments are battling to contain the fresh spike in cases, while wanting to avoiding inflicting fresh damage on their economies and imposing broad new restrictions on their virus-weary populations.

In Britain, new measures will take effect Friday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that pubs may have to close earlier to help avoid a “second hump” of coronavirus cases.

Residents of northeast England, including the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland, will no longer be allowed to meet people outside their own homes or immediate social circles.

The government, which is facing criticism over a lack of testing capacity, imposed rules across England on Monday limiting socialising to groups of six or fewer, as daily cases reached levels not seen since early May.

Britain has been Europe’s worst-hit country with nearly 42,000 deaths.

The city of Madrid meanwhile backtracked on a plan for targeted lockdowns and said it would instead move to “reduce mobility and contacts” in areas with high infection rates.

Austria announced that private indoor gatherings would be limited to 10 people, including all parties, private events and meetings indoors.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had warned earlier this week that the Alpine nation was entering a second wave of infections.

Outside of Europe, Israel is set to be the first developed country to enforce a second nationwide shutdown, to begin on Friday afternoon.

Its government called for hundreds of its citizens who are blocked on the Ukraine-Belarus border to return home.

Around 2,000 Hasidic Jew pilgrims, mainly from the US, Israel and France, are massed at the border which has been closed by Ukraine for most of this month to prevent the spread of the virus.

The pilgrims were hoping to reach the city of Uman for the Jewish New Year this weekend. (AFP)

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