The head of Germany’s disease control agency has blamed negligence for a worrying rise in cases in the country, while the World Health Organization has counselled against treating Covid-19 as a seasonal phenomenon or talking about waves of the virus.
The warnings came as Madrid’s regional government imposed new restrictions to halt the spread of the virus in and around the Spanish capital, and the German foreign ministry advised people not to travel to the hard-hit Spanish regions of Aragon, Catalonia and Navarre..
On Tuesday, Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s disease-prevention agency the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), said the surge in cases seen over recent weeks was down to people failing to follow guidelines and take the necessary precautions.
Over the past seven days, Germany has registered an average of 557 new cases a day, up from around 350 in early June. At the pandemic’s height, Germany saw over 6,000 cases a day.
“The new developments in Germany make me very worried,” Wieler said. “The rise has to do with the fact that we have become negligent.”
Germany has fared better than many of its neighbours in suppressing Covid-19, but Wieler urged citizens not to squander the progress and said the virus had to be stopped from “spreading rapidly and uncontrollably” once again.
“It’s in our hands how the pandemic evolves in Germany,” Wieler said, calling on Germans to stick with prevention measures such as washing hands and keeping a safe distance.
Face masks should be worn not only indoors, but also outdoors, if the recommended 1.5-metre (5ft) distancing cannot be maintained, he said, in a subtle update of the prior advice.
The RKI chief said Germans bringing the virus back from their summer holidays was one reason for the surge in cases, but he also pointed to outbreaks happening at workplaces and open-air parties.
“We don’t know yet if this is the beginning of a second wave but of course it could be,” Wieler said. “But I am optimistic that if we follow the hygiene rules we can prevent it. It’s up to us.”
The WHO, meanwhile, urged people to stop looking at the pandemic through a “flu lens” and cautioned against talking about waves.
“Season does not seem to be affecting the transmission of this virus,” said a spokeswoman, Margaret Harris.
“What we all need to get our heads around is this is a new virus … and even though it is a respiratory virus and even though respiratory viruses in the past did tend to do these different seasonal waves, this one is behaving differently,” Harris said.
She said that while some of the hardest-hit countries – such as the US and Brazil – are currently in different seasons, there “seems to be this fixed idea about this virus being seasonal”.
Harris also warned against thinking in terms of virus waves, adding: “It’s going to be one big wave. It’s going to go up and down a bit. The best thing is to flatten it and turn it into just something lapping at your feet.”
According to figures from Spain’s official statistics agency, more than 1m jobs were lost between April and June, when the country was in lockdown.
On Tuesday, the Spanish health ministry reported 905 new Covid cases over the past 24 hours – more than a third of them in Aragón – up from 855 the previous day. To date, the country has recorded 280,610 cases of the virus and 28,436 deaths. When the pandemic was at its peak on 31 March, Spain had 9,222 new infections in a single day.
Madrid’s regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, said that gatherings inside and outside restaurants and cafes would be limited to 10 people or fewer from Thursday. People were also advised to limit gatherings at home to 10 people.
Díaz Ayuso said that bars and nightclubs – which have been the sources of many new infections – would need to close their doors at 1.30am, and that patrons would have to give their national identification number before entering to facilitate tracing.
Díaz Ayuso also called on young people to behave responsibly.
“We’re worried by the behaviour of a lot of young people,” she said. “They’re putting their neighbours’ lives at risk, but they’re also risking their academic and employment future. The young people of Madrid need to become our allies.”
Díaz Ayuso said the aim was to avoid a return to the strict lockdown that ran from April to June, adding: “The strategy now is not to go backwards.”
She said she planned to introduce a Covid-19 record book for people who had had the virus or who had been tested.
The regional government has also called on the central government to make sure that people arriving at Madrid’s Barajas airport are given PCR tests on arrival.
Madrid’s regional health minister, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, said the area’s hospitals were ready for new coronavirus cases, but warned: “We can’t let our guard down, nor can we take a single step backwards.”
He added 138 people in Madrid had tested positive on Tuesday.
Hours after the British government changed its travel advice to warn people against non-essential visits to the Canary and Balearic islands as well as the Spanish mainland, Germany’s foreign ministry recommended against travel to three regions in northern Spain that are grappling with renewed outbreaks.
“Non-essential, tourist travel to the autonomous communities of Aragon, Catalonia and Navarre are currently discouraged due to renewed high levels of infections and local lockdowns,” a statement said.
Spain’s health minister, Salvador Illa, has rejected suggestions that the country is in the midst of a “second wave” of infections, pointing out that outbreaks were being detected early, and that 70% of them involve fewer than 10 cases.
“The situation is a bit more worrying in Catalonia and Aragón, but measures such as social distancing, which is being practised by the overwhelming majority of people, will allow us to control them and cut off transmission in those areas over the coming days and weeks,” he said on Tuesday.
“That’s why, in my opinion, we can’t talk about a second wave of cases. There are outbreaks in areas where transmission is very high, but the measures in place will help us bring them under control in the coming weeks.”
His comments came less than a week after María José Sierra, the deputy head of Spain’s centre for health emergencies, said there “could already be a second wave” in the country.
In France, officials are talking about the “risk” of a second wave but are not suggesting the country has yet arrived at that point – though there are warnings that people must be “vigilant”.
Figures published on Monday showed an increase of 514 new cases, down from more than 1,000 on Thursday and Friday. France saw almost 5,000 cases a day at the pandemic’s height.
The total number of deaths in France attributed to Covid-19 currently stands at 30,209 and there are 130 clusters under investigation, seven more since Friday.