COVID-19 in Europe: Nearing the peak?

It’s been over two months since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Europe. Since then, more and more countries have implemented lockdown measures designed to slow the spread of the virus. But how well are they working, and how close are we to a peak?

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Across Europe, the number of confirmed cases has flattened considerably, averaging around 34,500 a day over the past week. It looks, though, as if the pan-European plateau is going to be a long one; while countries that have locked down early are starting to go down, this will be counter-balanced by countries that locked down later continuing to rise.

The number of deaths across Europe continues to grow, though that growth has slowed considerably in the last couple of weeks. Over 4,000 deaths were reported from COVID-19 across Europe yesterday, and the seven-day moving average is continuing to rise. However, it is taking around nine days for this average to double; a week ago, it was taking only five days. We’re seeing about a one-week lag between the peak in cases and the peak in deaths in those individual countries that are already peaking, so we should start to see the number of deaths begin to plateau next weekend.

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Italy was the first country in Europe to have a proper outbreak, and on 11 March, they became the first country in Europe to go into a nationwide lockdown. A couple of weeks later, we saw the number of new cases in Italy begin to peak, with the moving average reaching its peak on 26 March. In the week since, this average has gone down by around 16%, and though the decline is starting to accelerate, it’s unclear how long it will take for the number of new cases to halve.

The number of deaths in Italy has plateaued as well, averaging around 800 a day over the last week. Yesterday, on 3 April, we saw the seven-day moving average go down, albeit slightly, for the first time, suggesting the beginning of a downward trend. If the number of new cases is a leading indicator, then the daily death toll should begin to drop gradually over the next few days.

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It’s expected that, once today’s figures are released, that Spain will have surpassed Italy in terms of the number of known COVID-19 cases (though not yet in terms of deaths). But it appears that the number of daily new cases has reached a plateau, averaging around 7,640 a day over the last week, and the moving average has started to fall (albeit very slightly) over the last three days.

The daily death toll in Spain is also beginning to plateau, averaging around 865 a day over the last week. Assuming a similar pattern to Italy, this average should peak around the middle of next week and start to gradually decline by Easter weekend.

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In France, the number of new cases over the last week has been a bit too jerky in order to extrapolate any clear trends. Recently, it did take the moving average around nine days to double. Italy’s case growth rate hit a similar point a couple of days before the moving average peaked, suggesting the peak in new cases in France could be coming over the next week.

However, when we look at the number of deaths in France, we’re not really seeing a slowdown at all. The number of deaths has doubled over the last 3½ days, which is around the same as it was last week. This is despite a lockdown that has gone on for nearly three weeks. That being said, the number of new cases followed a similar trendline up until a week ago, suggesting that the death toll should start to grow more slowly over the coming days.

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Germany has been doing a very good job in terms of testing, and between that and the two-week-old lockdown, we are starting to see a slowdown in new case growth. It’s unclear whether the flat-lining of the new case curve is part of a wider trend, or whether it’s down to the spike last week moving out of the moving average. But if it’s not at the peak infection rate now, it looks like it should get there in the next few days.

The death rate in Germany is starting to slow, currently doubling every five days. This is around where Italy was a week and a half ago, suggesting that’s how far it could be from its peak death rate.

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The UK has been under a form of lockdown for nearly two weeks. The rate of growth in new cases is slowing; the moving average has doubled over the last six days, where a week ago it took four days. The reduction is in its early stages, and it’s similar to where Italy was a couple of weeks ago. This suggests that a peak in new cases could come in around a week, with a peak in deaths by mid-April.

While the peak is either imminent or occurring in most European countries, a number of questions remain. How quickly will we come down from the peak after it occurs? At what point will lockdowns start to be lifted, and how gradually? Is there enough herd immunity to prevent a second wave that’s as bad as the first? Will we have to wait until we’re sure the virus is gone before this ends? We don’t really know the answers to any of these yet, and we’ll be keenly watching those countries that are peaking now as a clue of what might happen elsewhere across the continent.

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I am Joe. I am a techy at heart, a self-taught psephologist (political number cruncher), a pleasure cyclist, and someone who just calls things as he sees them.

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