LONDON – Restrictions on coronavirus blocking in Europe seem to be paying off, with the decline in new weekly cases, the World Health Organization said, offering a glimmer of hope before Christmas as cases rise in the United States.
Restrictions, from closing schools and shops to limited social interactions, have led to a slight reduction in new Covid-19 cases per week from 2 million to 1.8 million in the past two weeks, the WHO said.
“It’s a small signal, but it’s still a signal,” WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement Thursday.
He said future blockages were “avoidable”
It also gave a glimmer of hope for those who plan to spend the Christmas holiday season with loved ones.
“I firmly believe that there is more hope in front of us than despair behind us,” he said. Adding, “It’s going to be a different Christmas, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be merry.”
In total, Europe has registered 15.9 million cases of Covid-19 and just over 359,000 deaths, according to the WHO, which represents 28 percent of global cases.
But the continent is certainly not out of the woods, with everyone dying every 17 seconds from Covid-19, he said. Intensive care units, especially in France and Switzerland, are almost full.
In Britain, which has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe, Britain is in the middle of a second national blockade, but “there are encouraging signs that the number of cases is starting to level off,” Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Friday. “The lock we introduced earlier this month works.”
In France, where people have to stay at home, except to buy basic goods or exercise for an hour a day, there are signs that the national lock is working.
Health ministry data found 21,150 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday from 28,383 on Wednesday, while pressure on the hospital system is also easing. The total number of confirmed cases of French coronavirus is currently over 2 million.
“The virus is circulating less than before the blockade. We must not give up 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, both the highest in the world.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel during Thanksgiving next week to curb the spread of the virus.
“We are concerned about the exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” said CDC official Henry Walk.
California Gov. Gavin Newsum ordered a stay at home and an evening class for social gatherings and other non-essential activities on Thursday to curb the alarming rise in infections. While a similar evening order from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. was issued Thursday in Ohio and will remain in effect for the next 21 days, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced separately.
The state school system in New York, the largest in the country, has suspended classroom classes due to rising levels of infection, which has caused some embarrassment among parents as Mayor Bill de Blasio said the measures were necessary and temporary.
Encouraging news of vaccine breakthroughs from drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna, each showing more than 90 percent effectiveness this week, has cheered many.
“Although vaccines will not stop Covid-19 completely,” Kluge told the WHO, “they represent great hope in the war against the virus.”
Reuters contributed to this report.