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WHO warns of "alarming" virus spread in Europe after 54,000 cases recorded in 24 hours

Coronavirus cases surge across Europe
Coronavirus cases surge across Europe 01:33

The World Health Organization on Thursday warned of "alarming rates of transmission" of COVID-19 across Europe and cautioned against shortening quarantine periods as countries in the region scrambled to find ways to reduce infections without resorting to new lockdowns. The WHO's regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said a September surge -- Europe set a new record last week, with some 54,000 cases recorded in 24 hours -- "should serve as a wake-up call for all of us."

"Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region," he told an online news conference from Copenhagen.

Kluge spoke as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the globe approached 30 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins. More than 942,000 people worldwide have died from the virus.

Across Europe, governments are battling to contain the fresh spike in cases, while wanting to avoiding inflicting fresh damage on their economies and imposing broad new restrictions on their virus-weary populations.

In Britain, new measures will take effect Friday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that pubs may have to close earlier to help avoid a "second hump" of coronavirus cases.

Britain Virus Outbreak
People sit outdoors during a night out in Soho in London's West End on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. Dominic Lipinski / AP

Residents of northeast England, including the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland, will no longer be allowed to meet people outside their own homes or immediate social circles.

The government, which is facing criticism over a lack of testing capacity, imposed rules across England on Monday limiting socializing to groups of six or fewer, as daily cases reached levels not seen since early May.

Britain has been Europe's worst-hit country with nearly 42,000 deaths.

Meanwhile, pubs in Dublin will remain shut when those outside the capital reopen next week, the Irish government said this week following a surge in coronavirus cases. Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the government would introduce "additional measures" to suppress the spread of the virus, which has so far killed nearly 1,800 people in Ireland. 

The city of Madrid meanwhile backtracked on a plan for targeted lockdowns and said it would instead move to "reduce mobility and contacts" in areas with high infection rates.

Austria announced that private indoor gatherings would be limited to 10 people, including all parties, private events and meetings indoors.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had warned earlier this week that the Alpine nation was entering a second wave of infections.

Outside of Europe, Israel is set to be the first developed country to enforce a second nationwide shutdown, to begin on Friday afternoon. 

"Instead of enforcing the rules in a strict way and systematically punishing those not wearing masks or who organized gatherings of hundreds of people, they are punishing us all collectively," said Barak Yeivin, 56, director of the Jerusalem Conservatory of Music and Dance.    

Israel's government called for hundreds of its citizens who are blocked on the Ukraine-Belarus border to return home.

Around 2,000 Hasidic Jew pilgrims, mainly from the U.S., Israel and France, are massed at the border which has been closed by Ukraine for most of this month to prevent the spread of the virus.

The pilgrims were hoping to reach the city of Uman for the Jewish New Year this weekend.

In further comments on Thursday, the WHO Europe said it would not change its guidance for a 14-day quarantine period for those exposed to the virus.

The recommendation is "based on our understanding of the incubation period and transmission of the disease. We would only revise that on the basis of a change of our understanding of the science," WHO Europe's senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said.

France has reduced the recommended length for self-isolation to seven days, while it is 10 days in the UK and Ireland. Several more European countries, such as Portugal and Croatia, are also considering shorter quarantines.

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