ROME—Europe is bracing for a second wave of COVID-19 as the busy tourist season reaches its peak this weekend.
In France, the government on Friday declared the cities of Paris and Marseilles and the surrounding regions “red zones” after a spike in new cases sent authorities scrambling to contain outbreaks largely driven by visiting tourists and careless young people.
On Thursday, France reported more than 2,500 new infections of COVID-19 for the second day in a row, taking the country back to mid-April levels, when much of Europe was on lockdown.
The situation isn’t much better in Spain, where officials there warn of a “critical moment” after the military was dispatched to the northeastern city of Zaragoza to rebuild a field hospital that was taken down four months ago.
Spain has an infection rate of 100 per 100,000, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, which is the highest in Europe after the tiny country of Luxembourg.
France has a rate of 32 cases per 100,000.
The United Kingdom, which came into coronavirus restrictions later than much of the rest of Europe, has added France to the list of countries, including Spain, from which visitors must now quarantine for 14 days upon entry, sparking anger among travelers who are still on holiday in France.
Italy, which was once the Eurozone’s epicenter for the virus, has a rate of just 8.2 cases per 100,000, but the country is still under very strict guidelines, including a face-mask mandate in all public spaces since March. France, by comparison, only mandated face coverings indoors on July 20.
Italy has also started an aggressive testing program under which all travelers from Greece, Croatia, Malta, and Spain must be tested on arrival or present a testing certificate within 72 hours, though there are flaws in the system, especially at smaller airports that do not have adequate resources to carry out the tests or follow up on contact tracing. As of Friday, France looked likely to join the list.
A smaller spike in Italy of around 500 new cases a day this week, up from the lower hundreds, has been attributed to young people returning from those countries.
The Italian government has extended the state of emergency to Sept. 7, which allows regions to impose restrictions and close certain sectors tied to outbreaks. “We must continue to be cautious in order to protect the results obtained thanks to sacrifices made by all in recent months,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said this week.
In the Netherlands, authorities have warned that young people are also to blame for a spike of about 600 new cases a day, up from 40, according to BBC News. The Dutch health ministry spokesperson Joba van den Berg said 70 percent of cases stemmed from private gatherings held by people trying to skirt restrictions on gatherings.
“I do understand it is difficult, with summer time, parties, family gatherings, wedding, funerals,” van den Berg told the BBC. “But many people are too close together and they are the source of the enormous increase in infections.”
Europeans are now looking to how other countries are handling their outbreak. New Zealand, which went more than 100 days without a single new case, has gone under partial lockdown after a cluster was found that is potentially tied to a frozen food plant.
Australia has also successfully fought back a spike by locking down large swaths of the country to mitigate the spread.
It is unclear whether plans in place in many European countries to open schools in person next month will be affected by the threat of what clearly looks like it could be a second wave.