Both countries have seen their highest rates of daily infections over the last week — but without spikes in hospitalizations or deaths

By Julie Mazziotta
September 08, 2020 02:03 PM
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People in Paris wear face masks as they walk near the Eiffel Tower
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France and Spain are experiencing record-breaking numbers of new COVID-19 cases, raising concerns that Europe is now seeing a second wave of infections.

Both countries have recorded their highest rates of daily infections in the last week, topping their caseloads from March, when they went into full lockdowns. For now, though, there has not been a spike in hospitalizations or deaths.

On Friday, France had 8,975 new COVID-19 cases, nearly 1,500 more than their record of 7,578 from March 31, according to The New York Times. Spain, meanwhile, reported 10,476 new cases that day, surpassing its high from April 1 of 9,701.

Italy and the United Kingdom are also trending upwards again, with 1,150 and 2,948 cases, respectively, on Monday. However, they are both still far below their pre-lockdown numbers.

The rise in cases have European officials worried about a second wave of COVID-19 as citizens return from August vacations and kids head back to school. Though the virus was still circulating around Europe over the summer, springtime lockdowns lowered case levels and Europeans were able to travel during the warmer months.

An Italian police officer patrols the Spanish Steps in Rome
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But while case numbers jumped in Spain and France, hospitalizations and deaths are still down, and the new infections are primarily in younger people. Currently, less than 500 people are in France’s intensive care wards for COVID-19, well below the 8,000 hospitalized at the peak of the pandemic, NBC News reported. Some experts speculate that robust testing programs are helping to identify cases in asymptomatic young people before they spread it to more vulnerable populations.

“For the moment, the important number is the number of sick persons, and the number of sick people is not increasing,” Laurent Toubiana, a leading epidemiologist at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research, told NBC News. “The number of deaths are not increasing. So, we shouldn’t be getting worked up.”

Infections are rising, though, in older people, Ammon, from the ECDC, said.

"In August ... we are seeing more that also [an] older population is affected, indicating that it's really a true increase in transmission," she said, according to CNN.

In response, Italy and Spain have closed nightclubs and mandated masks in public — a requirement that France put in place in July. The countries are hoping to avoid another full lockdown.

COVID-19 infections in Europe, however, are still far below the consistently high numbers in the U.S., which has the most in the world, ahead of India and Brazil. As of Tuesday morning, more than 6,317,200 people in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 189,076 Americans have died from the virus, according to the Times.