Imposing tighter controls to curb Covid-19 contagion could save hundreds of thousands of lives across Europe before February as the continent battles an exponential surge in infections already forcing curfews and lockdowns, the World Health Organization said yesterday.
Urging governments to "step up" swiftly to contain in a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the WHO's European Director Hans Kluge said the current situation was, "more than ever, pandemic times for Europe".
New infections are hitting 100,000 daily in Europe, and the region has just registered the highest weekly incidence of Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with almost 700,000 cases reported.
"The fall (autumn) and winter surge continues to unfold in Europe, with exponential increases in daily cases and matching percentage increases in daily deaths," Kluge told an online media briefing.
"It's time to step up. The message to governments is: don't hold back with relatively small actions to avoid the painful damaging actions we saw in the first round (in March and April)."
More than 38 million people globally have been reported as infected with Covid-19, and 1.1 million have died.Swift tightening measures now - such as enforcing widespread mask-wearing and controlling social gatherings in public or private spaces - could save up to 281,000 lives by February across the 53 countries that make up the WHO European region, Kluge added.
France on Wednesday became the latest European country to toughen anti-coronavirus measures, imposing a curfew in Paris and eight other cities from Saturday, while Germany and Ireland also ramped up restrictions.
"We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus," President Emmanuel Macron told public television, announcing a shutdown between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am that will remain in force for as long as six weeks.
Other major French cities such as Lyon, the Mediterranean port Marseille and southwestern Toulouse will similarly impose curfews, with around 20 million people affected in all, out of a total population of some 67 million.
French police searched the home of Health Minister Olivier Veran yesterday as part of an inquiry into the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, his office said.
London, the world's international financial capital, will enter a tighter lockdown from midnight today as Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to tackle a swiftly accelerating second wave.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said London, which has a population of 9 million, as well as the adjacent, heavily populated county of Essex, would be put on "high" alert level, up from "medium", at one minute past midnight (2301 GMT Friday).
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced tougher measures on gatherings and mask-wearing.
"I am convinced that what we do now will be decisive for how we come through this pandemic," the leader said.
New infections in Germany continued to rise Wednesday, pushing past 5,000 cases in 24 hours -- a level not seen since a lockdown imposed on Europe's biggest economy in the spring, reports AFP.
In Spain, bars and restaurants will close across the northeastern region of Catalonia for the next 15 days as the country tackles one of the highest rates of infection in the European Union.
In the Netherlands, where new measures also came into force, including restrictions on alcohol sales and new mask requirements, people drank and danced to pumping techno music in the final minutes before all bars, restaurants and cannabis "coffeeshops" closed down.
Ireland's Prime Minister Micheal Martin announced a raft of new curbs along the border with the British province of Northern Ireland, including the closure of non-essential retail outlets, gyms, pools and leisure centres.
And in Italy, authorities recorded 7,332 new cases on Wednesday -- the highest daily count the hard-hit country has yet seen since March.
Rome has already imposed new, tougher rules to control the virus' resurgence, including an end to parties, amateur football matches and snacking at bars at night.
Beyond Europe, the US death toll rose by 794 in a day to 216,597, according to Johns Hopkins University, with just three weeks before a crucial election in which the pandeic plays a central role.
India's tally of infections stood at 7.31 million yesterday, having risen by 67,708 in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed.
Iran on Wednesday announced new travel restrictions affecting the capital Tehran and four other major cities, as well as new single-day records in both Covid-19 deaths and new infections.
And neighbouring Iraq's death toll since the start of the pandemic passed 10,000 people.