European governments have warned of an alarming surge in the number of coronavirus infections across the continent from west to east, an autumn second wave that threatens to overwhelm hospitals and will greatly increase the death toll in the coming weeks.
"The situation is serious," said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Friday, a day after the country set a new daily record of almost 21,000 infections.
His words were in line with those of Jean Castex, his French counterpart, who extended a curfew on 46 million people, or two-thirds of the population, from midnight on Friday.
“The coming weeks will be tough. Our hospital services will be put to the test and the number of deaths will rise, "Castex said just before France announced a record 41,622 cases in the past 24 hours.
Overloaded hospitals in Roubaix and Tourcoing in northern France have started moving Covid-19 patients to other hospitals. However, officials have warned that a transfer system that saved lives in the affected eastern region in the first wave of the pandemic in the spring will not be of much use if every part of the country and its neighbors are also badly affected.
President Emmanuel Macron, eager to avoid another economically crippling nationwide lockdown, was due to visit a hospital in Pontoise, near Paris, on Friday to demonstrate the support of hospital staff as the crisis worsens.
According to the Ministry of Health, more than 14,000 patients with Covid-19 are currently hospitalized in France, of which 2,319 are in intensive care. This means that almost half of the country's ICU beds are filled with patients with the virus. Another 165 hospital deaths were reported Thursday, bringing the total to 34,210 deaths.
In Germany, new infections rose to over 10,000 for the second day in a row as a country that survived the first phase of the pandemic relatively unscathed is now considering a potentially brutal second wave.
The Robert Koch Institute, Germany's most important health authority, has registered 11,242 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours. So far, 9,954 people have died of the disease in Germany.
Ireland, the UK and countries in Central and Eastern Europe are also facing a dire pandemic resurgence.
Poland will put in place a number of sweeping restrictions on public life to counter a sharp rise in coronavirus infections that has put the country's health system under severe pressure.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said public gatherings were limited to a maximum of five people. Restaurants, bars and cafes would have to close for two weeks, except for take away. and all students above the third grade by the age of eight would have to switch to distance learning.
Medical staff at a drive-through Covid-19 testing center in Zegrze, Poland, on Tuesday © Pawel Supernak / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock
On Friday, Poland reported 13,632 new cases, the worst day of the pandemic to date, and 153 deaths. Almost three-fifths of the country's 228,318 cases have occurred since early October.
The city of Warrington in the north of England has now agreed with the British government to comply with the highest level 3 coronavirus restrictions after an increasing number of cases. The city is located between the Liverpool metropolitan area and Greater Manchester, which entered Tier 3 on Friday.
Under Tier 3 restrictions, pubs that cannot function as restaurants, along with betting shops, adult game centers, casinos and soft play centers, must close. People are not allowed to come into contact with anyone who is not “bubbling” in their support indoors, in a private garden, or in most outdoor locations and at events with tickets.
Additional coverage from James Shotter in Warsaw and Andy Bounds in Huddersfield