Virus cases up across Europe, South Korea

The coronavirus is in resurgence across the European continent, health data suggests.
The coronavirus is in resurgence across the European continent, health data suggests.

Europe's infectious disease agency has warned that a regional spike in coronavirus cases "represents a major threat to public health" as South Korea recorded its highest increase in new infections in more than 40 days.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Friday that about two dozen European countries are now classified as having high epidemiological risk.

Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Liechtenstein and Norway were the only exceptions with a "stable epidemiological situation," the ECDC said.

Governments and health authorities were urged to ensure physical distancing between individuals, allow people to work remotely and limit the number of people at indoor or outdoor gatherings.

The agency underlined that it was crucial "to re-motivate people to follow recommendations".

Public health authorities should also "reinforce healthcare capacity to manage potentially high numbers of COVID-19 patients" and "minimise the risk of transmission in long-term care facilities".

The head of the World Health Organisation said on Friday that the world was at a critical juncture and some countries are on a dangerous path, facing the prospect of health services collapsing under the strain of the pandemic.

"We are at a critical juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the northern hemisphere," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.

"The next few months are going to be very tough and some countries are on a dangerous track."

"We urge leaders to take immediate action, to prevent further unnecessary deaths, essential health services from collapsing and schools shutting again."

The latest ECDC assessment came as a number of countries and regions in Europe tightened anti-virus restrictions.

In the Italian capital Rome, authorities said they would close a number of popular outdoor evening hangout locations on weekends.

Similar curbs are in place in other Italian cities including Turin, Genoa and Palermo.

Several Italian regions also switched to online lessons for high school students in a bid to reduce rush-hour crowds on public transport.

Meanwhile Germany, which has been recording higher daily infection numbers than at the start of the pandemic in March, has extended mask rules.

Night-time curfews have been introduced in a number of areas struggling to contain outbreaks, including the capital Berlin.

Neighbouring Poland said restaurants were to close for a period of two weeks but would be able to offer take-out and delivery.

In Greece, authorities have ordered a night-time curfew from Saturday in coronavirus hotspots including regions home to the country's two largest cities, Athens and Thessaloniki.

Masks were also made mandatory in all public areas, the government said.

Elsewhere, Slovenia said it will return to a partial, week-long lockdown on Saturday closing malls, restaurants, hotels, most shops and student dormitories.

Over the past week, Slovenia banned all travel between the country's 12 regions, limited public gathering to six people and banned all events, including weddings and religious services.

The Stockholm-based ECDC covers the European Union, Britain, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

From March 1 to October 18, the countries covered by the ECDC reported 4.8 million cases and 202,551 deaths due to COVID-19.

This represented 12 per cent of all cases worldwide and almost a fifth of all globally reported deaths, the ECDC said.

Other measures it listed included using face masks, avoiding non-essential travel and for travellers to quarantine upon returning home.

The closure of public spaces and introducing "stay-at-home recommendations" were labelled "a last resort" but could also be used at local or regional level, the ECDC said.

Globally, more than 41.82 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus and 1,138,727 have died.

South Korea recorded its highest increase in coronavirus cases in more than 40 days on Friday as more infections were reported at hospitals and nursing homes.

A nursing home in Namyangju, east of Seoul, was put under isolation after more than 30 workers and residents tested positive.

About 120 infections have been linked to a hospital in nearby Gwangju.

The 155 new cases announced on Friday by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency brought the country's caseload to 25,698, including 455 deaths.

The steady spread of the virus has caused concern in a country that eased its distancing restrictions just last week to cope with a weak economy.

High-risk businesses such as nightclubs and karaoke bars have reopened while fans returned to the stands in professional sports.

Australian Associated Press