In a rare hopeful sign amid the grinding slog through a pandemic that has claimed more than 1.3 million lives across the globe, Europe’s new restrictions appear to be slowing the spread of the coronavirus in some of the worst-hit countries.

The World Health Organization said Thursday that new case rates were falling for the first time in months across the region. Two weeks ago, the agency reported that there were around two million new infections detected across Europe. Last week, that number fell to 1.8 million — a drop of 10 percent.

“It is a small signal, but it is a signal nevertheless,” Dr. Hans Kluge, the W.H.O. regional director for Europe, said at a news conference. Europe, he said, is capable of turning the tide, but he cautioned that the virus remained a serious threat.

The restrictions, many of which were announced at the end of October, are less severe than in the spring — many businesses are closed, and gatherings limited in size. But schools generally remain open, in contrast to the approach in much of the United States, and limits on movement are far less strict than they were.

In France, which announced a second lockdown on Oct. 28, the seven-day average for new daily cases had fallen from more than 54,000 on Nov. 7 to 28,500 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database. Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and the Czech Republic are among the countries that have also seen decreases.

Since deaths tend to lag behind new infections by several weeks, hospitals across the continent will remain under great strain, and the number of deaths is still rising, with 4,500 lives lost every day in Europe.

“One person is dying every 17 seconds,” Dr. Kluge said.

The W.H.O. remains opposed to lockdowns except as a last resort, and Dr. Kluge said that better mask compliance could help avoid the most draconian restrictions. He estimated that mask compliance across Europe was at about 60 percent. If it were above 90 percent, he said, lockdowns would be avoidable.

The W.H.O. is also committed to working with European nations to keep primary schools open, calling school closures ineffective.

Acknowledging public weariness and anxiety ahead of the holiday season, Dr. Kluge said that while people can take comfort from the promise of better days ahead, “it will be six tough months.”

But he added that collective action today, and the promise of vaccines on the horizon, was a reason for optimism.

“There is more hope ahead of us than despair behind us,” he said.


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