LONDON – Coronavirus lockdown restrictions in Europe seem to be paying off, with a dip in new weekly cases, the World Health Organization said, giving a glimmer of hope before Christmas as cases hover in the United States.
Restrictions from school and store closures to limited social interactions have led to a slight drop in new Covid-19 weekly cases from 2 million to 1.8 million over the past two weeks, the WHO said.
“It is a small signal, but it is nevertheless a signal,” WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement on Thursday.
He said future lockdowns could be “avoided”
He also offered a glimmer of hope to those planning to spend the Christmas holiday season with his loved ones.
“I am convinced that there is more hope ahead of us than despair behind us,” he said. Adds: “It’s going to be another Christmas, but that does not mean it can not be a merry Christmas.”
In total, Europe has registered 15.9 million Covid-19 cases and just over 359,000 deaths, according to WHO data, which accounts for 28 percent of global cases.
But the continent is certainly not out of the woods, with one person dying every 17 seconds from Covid-19, he said. Intensive care units, especially in France and Switzerland, are approaching full capacity.
In Britain, which has the highest death toll from coronavirus in Europe, England is in the midst of another national lockdown, but “there are encouraging signs that the number of cases is starting to flatten out,” Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Friday. “The lock that we brought into this month works.”
In France, where people have to stay home except to buy essentials or train for an hour a day, there are signs that the national lockdown is working.
Information from the Ministry of Health found 21,150 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday, down from 28,383 on Wednesday, while the pressure on the hospital system also eased. The total number of confirmed cases of French coronavirus is now more than 2 million.
“The virus is circulating less than before the lockdown. We must not fail our efforts,” French Health Minister Olivier Veran told a news conference on Thursday.
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The slight improvement in Europe comes as cases in the United States continue to rise – 11,774,814 cases have been confirmed along with 253,337 deaths, according to NBC News data, both of which are the highest in the world.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday next week to reduce the spread of the virus.
“We are concerned about the exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” said CDC official Henry Walke.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a home order and curfew on social gatherings and other non-essential activities Thursday to curb the alarming rise in infections. While a similar curfew from kl. 22 to 05 was issued Thursday in Ohio and will remain in place for the next 21 days, Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, announced separately.
New York City’s public school system, the country’s largest, stopped classroom teaching due to rising infection rates, causing some unrest among parents when Mayor Bill de Blasio said the measures were necessary and temporary.
However, encouraging news of vaccine breakthroughs from drug manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna, each showing over 90 percent efficacy this week, has cheered many.
“While vaccines do not stop Covid-19 completely,” the WHO’s Kluge states, “they represent a great hope in the war against this virus.”
Reuters contributed to this report.