The second wave in Europe exhibits indicators of slowing after new lockdowns


Nichelino Red Cross workers in full PPE during the transport of COVID-19 patients on November 16, 2020 in Turin, Italy.

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LONDON – Europe's second wave of coronavirus is showing initial signs of slowing, but experts have warned it's too early to be complacent.

European countries have been grappling with a second wave of infections since September, but the latest numbers show a stabilization in new cases in Germany, Spain and Italy and a decline in Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

This came after new bans and strict social restrictions were introduced in numerous European countries in October to contain the second wave. The latest numbers suggest these steps seem to be working.

"These countries and some other parts of continental Europe may be on the verge of transition or have already done so," said Florian Hense, economist at Berenberg, on Tuesday.

For example, Belgium, which had some of the highest daily Covid-19 infections in Europe, reported lower numbers. Daily infections peaked near 24,000 on October 30, while 4,659 new cases emerged on Monday.

"At the moment the trend is good," Simon Dellicour, bio-engineer and research fellow at Universite Libre de Bruxelles, told CNBC on Monday in relation to Belgium.

The country's government tightened restrictions twice last month to cope with post-summer spikes in some cases. People now work from home and cannot visit family and friends' homes, for example.

Dellicour told CNBC that these measures have started to impact the number of cases and that recent restrictions should help further reduce new infections.

He said, however, "it is too early to win," adding that any relaxation of current restrictions must be done carefully to avoid a third wave.

Meanwhile in Germany, which has been partially closed since November 2nd, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that the restrictions meant that the number of cases stabilized "a little, but too slowly".

The largest economy in Europe reported 10,824 new cases on Monday, compared to 16,947 the previous day.

There were 27,354 new cases in Italy on Monday, compared with 40,092 on Friday. The southern European country also tightened restrictions earlier this month, but they're not as strict as they were in the first wave when schools and universities were also closed.

A mixed picture across Europe

However, Hense from Berenberg warned: "The picture remains mixed with still high or still increasing infection rates in other countries."

This is the case in the Czech Republic, Austria, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, they have the highest 14-day cumulative number of Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people in Europe.

In Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, for example, the numbers have not yet shown a clear sign that new infections are emerging, according to John Hopkins University. On Monday, countries reported 1,325 and 5,407 new Covid cases, respectively, compared to 713 on Friday and 7,355 on Sunday, according to JHU.

Despite this mixed picture, some are optimistic that recent restrictions in Europe could be eased in a few weeks.

JP Morgan noted that measures taken across the region after the second wave had begun to bear fruit, meaning they could possibly be eased in time for Christmas.

"The lockdowns should be relaxed by early December, which will allow for a strong recovery in economic and social activity before the holiday season," said David Mackie, economist at JPMorgan, on Thursday

"Whether or not there will be another European lockdown in the first few months of next year remains to be seen, and much will depend on how the vaccine candidates develop. But enough has been done to reverse infections so far."

A sign with a reference to the hygiene regulations during the corona pandemic with the inscription "Please disinfect your hands" is located at a closed stand for a small Christmas market on Potsdamer Platz.

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Katherine Clark