Compared to the pandemic situation in spring, the current coronavirus wave is taking a much greater toll in Eastern and Central Europe than in the West.
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In most European countries, the spring wave of coronavirus was followed by a considerable decrease in the number of new infections in the summer. Yet, the epidemiologist who warned us of a new wave after the summer vacation season were right. Europe is now struggling with a coronavirus wave that is much stronger than the first one. With the exception of only five countries, all across Europe, the daily rate of new infections is several times higher than in spring.

An indicator illustrating this trend perfectly is the highest daily number of new infections. However, in order to avoid accidental results related to, for instance, fluctuations in the number of tests carried out on a given day, we need to consider the rolling average over the period of 7 consecutive days. Here, the values differ dramatically if we compare the autumn wave of the pandemic to the one in spring. For example, in Italy, in spring - when it seemed that the situation was as bad as it could be - on March 26 this indicator reached its highest value (5646 new cases). Yet, during the autumn wave, it turned out that the situation could get even worse after all: on October 25, the rate showed 15,934 new cases per day, i.e. it was 2.8 times higher than in spring.

With an almost three-fold increase in the average number of highest daily cases, the situation in Italy is still not the worst. If we would compare the two waves, the average increase in new coronavirus cases across Europe was more than ten-fold!

Interestingly, while in Western Europe the highest daily number of new cases calculated as a rolling average over 7 consecutive days is now 3.8 times higher (on average per country) than in spring, in Central and Eastern Europe, the same value increased as much as fifteen times (see the graph - it illustrates the development of the pandemic in European countries until and including October 25).


Thinking about the potential factors driving these differences, we must first consider the obvious assumption that the lower number of coronavirus infections registered in Eastern Europe in spring can perhaps be simply explained by the comparatively low number of performed tests. As a matter of fact, while in Western Europe more than 42% of the population had been tested (on average per country), in Eastern Europe, it was just over 14% (in Poland- 11.3%). On the other hand, the effectiveness of performed tests was much greater in Eastern Europe: for every 1000 tests (on average per country), 88 outcomes were positive (in Poland - 62). In the West, however, for every 1000 tests, only 37 were positive. As we can see, these two factors - the number of tests performed and testing efficiency – nearly balance each other out.

There is yet another argument speaking in favor of the hypothesis that the second wave of the pandemic is much worse in Eastern Europe (including Poland). It is the total number of deaths per confirmed cases. Here, it essentially doesn’t matter whether a given country tested 10 or 40 % of its population. In this respect, the difference between Eastern and Western Europe is even more dramatic than the number of identified infections. In Western Europe, in autumn, the highest daily number of deaths (calculated as a rolling average over the period of 7 consecutive days) is lower than in spring. In Eastern Europe, however, it is over 3 times higher (in Poland, it is even 4.4 times higher).

All things considered, maybe the fault lies with us. Perhaps Eastern Europeans are simply less disciplined when it comes to wearing masks, washing hands, and keeping social distance. Maybe the relatively mild course of the first wave has lulled the vigilance of our politicians and governments.

Poland ranks fourth among all European countries with regards to the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases (and deaths). Currently, the highest daily number of new cases calculated as a rolling average over a period of 7 consecutive days (11 132 new cases on October 25) is almost 25 times higher than in the spring (452 cases on June 9).

Unfortunately, politicians from the ruling Law and Justice party played an important role in undermining our social discipline. It is difficult not to link this shocking increase in the coronavirus incidence rate (as well as an almost imperceptible decrease in the incidence rate in summer) with Prime Minister Morawiecki’s public statements made shortly before the second round of the presidential election. Back then, the Prime Minister said this: "I am glad that we are less and less afraid of this virus. This is a good approach because it is in retreat. There is nothing to be afraid of".


Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronavirus pandemic for you.

They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.

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