France is also surging, as are parts of Eastern Europe, and cases are ticking up in Germany, Greece, Italy and Belgium, too, but in the past week, Spain has recorded the most new cases on the continent by far — more than 53,000. With 114 new infections per 100,000 people in that time, the virus is spreading faster in Spain than in the United States, more than twice as fast as in France, about eight times the rate in Italy and Britain, and 10 times the pace in Germany.
Spain was already one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, and now has about 440,000 cases and more than 29,000 deaths. But after one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns, which did check the virus’s spread, it then enjoyed one of the most rapid reopenings. The return of nightlife and group activities — far faster than most of its European neighbors — has contributed to the epidemic’s resurgence.
Now, as other Europeans mull how to restart their economies while still protecting human life, the Spanish have become an early bellwether for how a second wave might happen, how hard it might hit and how it could be contained.
“Perhaps Spain is the canary in the coal mine,” said Prof. Antoni Trilla, an epidemiologist at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, a research group. “Many countries may follow us — but hopefully not at the same speed or with the same number of cases that we are facing.”
The median age of sufferers has dropped to around 37 from 60. Asymptomatic cases account for more than 50 percent of positive results, which is partly because of a fourfold rise in testing. And the health institutions feel much better prepared.
Epidemiologists aren’t certain why it arrived so soon.
Explanations include a rise in large family gatherings; the return of tourism in cities like Málaga; the decision to return responsibility for combating the virus to local authorities at the end of the nationwide lockdown; and a lack of adequate housing and health care for migrants. The surge has also been blamed on the revival of nightlife, which was reinstated earlier and with looser restrictions than in many other parts of Europe.