Western Europe may have reached an important turning point in the coronavirus epidemic: while the total number of patients continues to climb, the rate of new infections is no longer rising.
The shift seems clearest in the two hardest-hit countries, Italy and Spain, though incomplete and inconsistent data make it hard to be sure.
Italy’s daily tally of confirmed new infections peaked on March 21, at more than 6,500, but for the past week the number has not gone above 5,000. In Spain, the number seems to have reached a plateau, fluctuating for almost two weeks between about 6,400 and more than 9,200, a high that was set last Tuesday.
In each country, the death toll attributed to the coronavirus disease, Covid-19, has reached more than 900 on some days. But it has been lower in the last few days and on Sunday, it dropped sharply. Whether that represents a long-term downward turn is unclear.
To relieve the disastrous burden on health care systems, there must be a decline in the number of active cases — people who are currently infected and have not yet recovered or died. While the number is still rising in Spain and Italy, the growth has slowed dramatically.
Across Western Europe and Scandinavia, the number of new infections recorded daily has fluctuated between 27,000 and 37,000 for almost two weeks. More than 40,000 people have died, and there are more than 400,000 known, active infections. (The outbreak in Eastern Europe is harder to gauge because the information is spottier but the virus still appears to be spreading fast.)
The outlier in the region is Britain, which was slower to be hit by the virus than most of its neighbors and slower to order people to stay at home and businesses to close. There, the number of new infections confirmed is still rising, and hit its high so far on Sunday, at more than 5,900.