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WRAPUP 1-U.S. hit by spike in coronavirus cases; rising infections strain Europe's hospitals

Wed, 21st Oct 2020 17:12

* COVID-19 spike forces European hospitals to limit other
treatments

* 32 of 50 U.S. states in danger zone of rising infection
rates

* German health minister tests positive

By Bart H. Meijer and Maria Caspani

AMSTERDAM/NEW YORK, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Europe's hospital
systems are at risk of buckling under the strain of soaring
COVID-19 infections that put the continent again at the center
of the global pandemic on Wednesday while nearly two-thirds of
U.S. states were in a danger zone of coronavirus spread.

With European case numbers that were brought largely under
control by the unprecedented lockdowns in March and April now
resurging relentlessly, authorities in countries from Poland to
Portugal have expressed mounting alarm at the renewed crisis
confronting their health infrastructure.

Belgium, struggling with what its health minister called a
"tsunami" of infections, is postponing all non-essential
hospital procedures, and similar measures are looming in other
countries.

"If the rhythm of the past week continues, rescheduling and
suspending some non-priority activities will become
unavoidable," said Julio Pascual, medical director at
Barcelona's Hospital del Mar.

In the United States, 32 of 50 states have entered a danger
zone with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over the
past week, and nationally the country averaged 120 cases per
100,000 people, its highest since a peak in July, according to a
Reuters analysis.

A block of states in the Midwest and Mountain regions from
Idaho to Illinois were a red zone along with Alaska, denoting
rapidly rising infection. The Midwest hit a record on Monday
with over 27,000 new infections and hospitalizations also
climbed to a record high of 10,830 for a fifth day in a row on
Tuesday, Reuters figures showed.

"We are not far from the period of exponential, explosive
growth of #covid19 in the U.S.," said Dr. Leana Wen, former
Baltimore health commissioner, on Twitter. "We've seen two
surges like this before. The difference now is that there are
virus hotspots all over the country & the winter is still
ahead."

Similar to Europe, this raised fears hospitals could become
overwhelmed like in the early months of the pandemic in the U.S.
Northeast.

Boston's public school system announced that students will
shift to remote learning beginning Thursday due to the rising
COVID-19 infection rate in the city, and New Jersey Governor
Phil Murphy said he will quarantine himself after coming in
contact with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus.

In Berlin, German Health Minister Jens Spahn also tested
positive after taking part in a cabinet meeting earlier in the
day, but the cabinet will not have to quarantine because of its
compliance with hygiene and distance rules.

To complicate Europe's situation, widespread coronavirus
fatigue and the frightening economic impact of the crisis have
eroded broad public support for the lockdowns ordered earlier in
the year to stop health services from being overwhelmed.

Unwilling to shut down their countries again, governments
have sought less drastic measures to limit public gatherings and
balance the need to keep their economies turning with holding
back the pandemic.

According to data from the European Centre for Disease
Prevention and Control (ECDC), Europe has registered more than 5
million cases and 200,000 deaths, with new cases beginning to
spike sharply from the end of September.

While well below levels at the peak of the crisis six months
ago, COVID-19 hospital admissions and occupancy are again high -
defined as at least 25% of the peak of the pandemic - or rising
in 20 countries, its latest weekly summary said last week.

The capacity of hospitals to handle a wave of coronavirus
patients, as well as people suffering from cancer, heart disease
and other serious conditions, is still vulnerable.

Dutch health authorities said that if the number of COVID-19
patients in hospital wards continues to grow, three-quarters of
regular care may have to be scrapped by the end of November, and
there were similar warnings from Czech authorities.

"We have hit a wall on clinical beds," said Wouter van der
Horst, spokesman for the Dutch hospital association NVZ.

'WE COULDN'T GET TO EVERYONE'

As hospital admissions have spiraled, much attention has
been focused on intensive care units, which came close to being
overwhelmed in many areas during the first wave of the crisis.

Authorities in Lombardy, the Italian region at the center of
the earlier wave, on Wednesday ordered the reopening of special
temporary intensive care units set up in Milan and Bergamo that
were shut down as case numbers receded.

Already, a number of regional health authorities in Germany,
one of the countries that dealt with the first wave most
effectively, have agreed to take in intensive care patients from
other countries.

On Wednesday, authorities in Ireland, where the five-day
case average has tripled since the start of October, said there
were no longer enough officials to keep its contact-tracing
system working.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus
Writing by James Mackenzie and Cynthia Osterman
Editing by Mark Heinrich and Lisa Shumaker)

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