The European Union's agency for infectious diseases called on authorities to quickly implement targeted measures to deal with a "worrying increase" in COVID-19 cases.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) highlighted on Thursday that an upsurge in COVID-19 infections observed across the Old Continent since August is due in part to restrictive measures not having the intended effect either because adherence to the measures is not optimal or because the measures are not sufficient to reduce or control exposure.
More than 3 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded in Europe since the beginning of the outbreak but the population remains highly vulnerable with the level of immunity estimated at less than 15 per cent in most areas with the EU and the UK.
The ECDC stressed that the rise of infections is not impacting all countries in the same way.
In several of them, the upsurge is linked to increased testing and "intense transmission" among people aged 15 to 49 with cases overwhelmingly mild or asymptomatic but in a number of them, the increase in infections primarily affects older individuals, "and consequently an increased proportion of hospitalised and severe cases," the health agency said.
Spain currently has the highest 14-day incidence rate in the bloc with 320 cases per 100,000 population. It is followed by the Czech Republic (229.4), France (204.5), Luxembourg (173.8), and Malta (140.6).
Belgium, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Austria also have rates surpassing 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director, warned that the evolving situation "also threatens the capacities of the healthcare system to cope with an increased number of COVID-19 patients. Therefore, targeted public health action is needed."
"Until there is a safe and effective vaccine available, strategies to reduce the spread in the community are the most effective tools we have. Rapid identification, testing regardless of symptoms, and quarantine of high-risk contacts are some of the most effective measures to reduce transmission," she added.
The agency recommends that non-pharmaceutical measures to curtail the spread of the virus be implemented at the local level based on the epidemiological situation rather than nationally
This targeted approach will "minimise the social and economic impact on people and affected regions or in groups that are less likely to experience high morbidity or mortality," the ECDC argued.
Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health, said the bloc is "at a decisive moment" and urged member states to "be ready to roll out measures immediately and at the right time".
"It might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring," she added.
Member states implemented national lockdowns from March as the virus reached Europe but progressively lifted the restrictions as the number of cases and deaths petered out before the summer.
Since then, several countries have introduced tougher mask-wearing obligations and imposed local lockdowns, including the UK.
France announced on Wednesday that bars and restaurants in Marseille and the island of Guadeloupe would shut their doors from Saturday while those in about a dozen other major cities including capital Paris will have to close at 10 pm.