Europe recorded one million new coronavirus cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said among the hard-hit places is the Milan suburb of Bollate, where the virus swept through a nursery and an adjacent primary school with alarming speed. In a matter of days, 45 children and 14 staff members tested positive.
Genetic analysis confirmed it was the highly contagious variant first identified in England late last year.
The surge is leading to new restrictions across the continent.
Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said the spread of variants is driving the increase, but so is “the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner”.
The UK variant is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 by the agency’s count: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.