New outbreak in China and spike in coronavirus cases in Spain fuel fear of a second wave happening before winter

In the past 6 weeks, the total number of cases globally has roughly doubled, says the WHO


                            New outbreak in China and spike in coronavirus cases in Spain fuel fear of a second wave happening before winter
(Getty Images)

This Thursday, July 30, will make it six months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a public health emergency of international concern on January 30 when there were less than 100 cases outside of China. The coronavirus pandemic continues to accelerate globally and the total number of cases has roughly doubled in the last six weeks, says the WHO. With China reporting new cases and Spain witnessing a spike, has the second wave of Covid-19 started in these countries?

“Many countries are really in the thick of it, they are seeing intense transmission. Other countries, which have already passed through their first peak, many of them are keeping transmission low. In some of those countries they’re starting to see a resurgence, and they are starting to see a resurgence in particular areas, clusters of cases and outbreaks in certain geographic areas or areas that are associated with certain types of industries, such as nightclubs. If the virus finds an opportunity, it will transmit between people and these clusters of cases will emerge,” said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, during a briefing.

Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said, “The assumption that the disease would naturally come in waves is an assumption that’s based on previous pandemics with other respiratory viruses like influenza. Pressure on the virus successfully pushes the numbers down. Whether we are dealing with second peaks within the first wave or second waves, in some senses, is not the right question to ask. The question to ask is how much pressure do you have on the virus.” 

As of July 28, 16,426,919 coronavirus cases have been reported globally and over 653,350 have died in the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, the top three countries with the most confirmed cases are US, Brazil and India. 

Current situation

China reported 61 new cases on July 27, its biggest daily rise since April, sowing fears of a second wave of infections. The new figures were driven by clusters in some regions, including in Xinjiang in the north-west, where a sudden outbreak in the regional capital Urumqi occurred in mid-July. Xinjiang has tested over 2 million people in Urumqi after cluster infections were reported in the city. Fourteen domestic cases were also recorded in the northeastern province of Liaoning where a fresh cluster broke out in the city of Dalian last week. Mass testing has also been rolled out in Dalian. On July 26, 44 new asymptomatic cases, including one imported case, were also reported. “On July 26, 61 new cases of confirmed infections were reported -- 4 imported cases (2 in Inner Mongolia autonomous region, 1 in Fujian province and 1 in Sichuan province), and 57 indigenous cases (41 in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, 14 in Liaoning province and 2 in Jilin province),” said China’s National Health Commission. 

The numbers have further gone up. In its latest briefing published on July 28, China reported 68 new cases. This includes 4 imported cases: 2 in Shanghai municipality, 1 in Beijing municipality, and 1 in Yunnan province. The 64 domestic cases include 57 in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, 6 in Liaoning province, and 1 in Beijing. According to the report, 34 new asymptomatic cases have been reported. As of July 27, 306 asymptomatic cases were still under medical observation, including 88 imported cases. “There still remained 82 confirmed cases (including 2 in serious condition) and 1 suspected case,” says the report. 

China reported 61 new cases on July 27, its biggest daily rise since April. The numbers have further gone up. In its latest briefing published on July 28, China reported 68 new cases. (Getty Images)

In preparation for a possible Covid-19 outbreak during the autumn and winter, the General Office of the State Council in China has released a document that requires local authorities to strengthen personnel training to guard against the epidemic and conduct emergency drills. The document clarifies key tasks for deepening reform of medical and health systems and calls for strengthening the public health system, improving the monitoring and early warning system for infectious diseases, and preparing for Covid-19 prevention in autumn and winter. Public hospitals should strengthen the ability to treat infectious diseases, the document says, adding efforts should be made to improve the containment of infectious diseases at border ports. It recommends improving the mechanism for monitoring diseases of unknown causes and abnormal health events and urges the military and civilian authorities to strengthen information sharing about infectious diseases. 

While countries like the US and India are still dealing with the first wave and cases continue to mount, surges are also being reported in countries that previously appeared to have the virus under control.

Last month, South Korea, which has been largely successful in controlling the pandemic, confirmed the country is going through a second wave of coronavirus. “In the metropolitan area, we believe that the first wave was from March to April as well as February to March. Then we see that the second wave which was triggered by the May holiday has been going on,” said Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). “We originally predicted that the second wave would emerge in fall or winter. Our forecast turned out to be wrong. As long as people have close contact with others, we believe that infections will continue,” added Jeong. 

Barely a month after Spain ended its state of emergency, cities including Barcelona, Zaragoza, and the capital Madrid have seen a spike in new infections. This has prompted the government to warn that a second wave could be imminent, even as measures are being taken to control the surge. Its rate of cases per 100,000 people is currently at 35.1, according to the European Union's European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). This compares with the UK's rate of 14.7. “While the curve had been flattened, community transmission was being seen in northeastern areas. It could already be a second wave, but that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is that we keep following what’s going on, see what measures are necessary, and take them early,” “María José Sierra, the deputy head of Spain’s center for health emergencies, said last week. 

Barely a month after Spain ended its state of emergency, cities including Barcelona, Zaragoza, and the capital Madrid have seen a spike in new infections. (Getty Images)

Catalonia in northeastern Spain has closed its nightlife for two weeks but cities outside the region are also seeing a surge. Nearly 8,000 cases have been diagnosed in Catalonia over the past 14 days, representing nearly half of the 16,410 detected across Spain. “We’re in the 10 most important days of the summer and during that time, we’ll see whether we’re capable of sorting out the situation through solidarity, cooperation, and a collective effort. But the situation is critical and if we don’t manage to, then we will have to go backward,” said Quim Torra, the regional president of Catalonia. Authorities also prohibited anyone from entering or leaving the town of Totana in the southeastern part of the country, after 55 people who went to a local bar tested positive for Covid-19. “The town, home to 32,000 people, is one of many in Spain to go back into lockdown, as the country struggles to contact trace and get a handle on new outbreaks popping up across the nation,” says a report. 

Concerned over outbreaks in Spain, UK imposed a 14-day quarantine on people returning from Spain. “On Monday, July 27, the Foreign Office dealt Madrid a new blow by extending its advice against non-essential travel to mainland Spain to include the Balearic and Canary Islands,” reports Reuters. It adds, “Spain’s hotels on Monday offered to pay for foreign tourists to take coronavirus tests. Last year, Britons made up over a fifth of foreign visitors to Spain, which relies heavily on tourism. Airlines and travel businesses that managed to survive the first wave now worry that an aborted reopening could be fatal.” 

According to The Guardian, Europe is bracing for a second wave of the coronavirus. In France, the health minister has called for greater vigilance after a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in young people, and Germany’s public health advisory body has said it is “deeply concerned” about the rise in cases over the past few weeks, says the article.

Belgium’s Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes has announced a set of strict social distancing measures amid a surge of Covid-19 infections. After a sharp decline of infections, there was a 71% increase from July 17-23 compared to the previous 7 days. The northern city of Antwerp has been particularly affected (47% of the cases detected), and authorities there have imposed a curfew from 11.30 pm to 6 am. According to the new rules, a family or those living together can meet only the same five people from outside their household over the next four weeks. This “social bubble” applies to a house and its occupants and not to individuals. It is a drop from the 15 different people that Belgians are currently allowed to meet every week. Lowering crowd limits at public events to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors are part of the new measures, which authorities believe could be sufficient to avoid further restrictions. 

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