Mar 4, 2020
Europe Toils to Contain Virus as Confirmed Cases Inch Upward
(Bloomberg) -- In less than two weeks, the coronavirus has spread in Europe from a handful of cases in northern Italy to thousands across the continent, with pockets of infection from Spain to Belarus.
Cases in Germany rose by more than a fifth to 240 on Wednesday to cover virtually the entire nation, while neighboring Poland registered its first case. France and Switzerland have banned large gatherings and in Italy, Europe’s epicenter of the disease where more than 2,500 people have contracted the virus and 79 have died, authorities have quarantined entire towns.
Europe originally had more modest clusters of the virus, including at a German auto parts supplier and in a French ski resort, where authorities quickly identified an original carrier and kept the illness in check. But the outbreak in Italy, traced to a 38-year-old man who sought treatment at a hospital near Milan on Feb. 18, triggered a series of new infections spread by people traveling to and from the region that’s popular with tourists.
More than 3,000 have contracted the virus in Europe, with numbers rising steadily across the continent and warnings about the impact on already fragile economies becoming ever louder. Complicating the battle to contain the outbreak, there are increasing doubts that supplies of medical equipment will hold up. Germany on Wednesday banned exports of protective items including masks, gloves and suits unless for special cases like international aid efforts.
“What we saw in China is now happening in Europe,” said Massimo Andreoni, professor of infectious diseases at Rome’s Tor Vergata University. “Italy has the most cases also because it carried out many more tests than other European countries.”
European authorities have canceled some of the continent’s biggest business events, including Berlin’s ITB tourism trade fair and the Geneva Motor Show, and tightened border controls in an effort to limit the spread. Globally, more than than 93,000 people have been infected. The window to contain the outbreak is narrowing, the World Health Organization has warned.
The virus is punishing the region’s companies with delivery delays, plunging export orders and slowing job growth, threatening to delay a long-awaited manufacturing revival and even derail service-sector resilience.
“There are clear downside risks and a likely weakening of the economy in March,” Chris Williamson, an economist at IHS Markit, said Wednesday. “Growing numbers of companies are reporting lost business due to the virus spread, notably in sectors such as hotels, travel, transport and tourism but also even in areas such as financial services.”
The European Central Bank said it would restrict all non-essential travel until April 20, when the situation will be reassessed.
The number of confirmed cases in Sweden has doubled to 30. Most had been traveling in Italy during the winter school break, which ended on March 1.
Italian authorities are holding their breath, hoping contagion figures in the next couple of days will show a downward trend, two weeks after the first confirmed infection.
Almost 26,000 people have been tested, and experts say that the recent surge in Italian cases is due to people infected in the past 10 days as the backlog accumulated. What worries health authorities is the increase in intensive-care patients. They rose to 229 Tuesday from 140 on Sunday. The number of recovered rose to 160.
The big concern in Lombardy, the most affected region, is to contain the spread in the “red zones” and spare big cities like Milan and Bergamo.
--With assistance from Carolynn Look and Marco Bertacche.
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