The Pandemic’s Winter Surge Is Here

The numbers are rising. Our leaders must react quickly to prevent unnecessary deaths.

Europe’s second wave built slowly, starting in midsummer. At that time, charts comparing coronavirus cases in America and Europe highlighted the inadequacy of the U.S. response; there were days on which individual American states recorded more new infections than the entire European continent. But in July, cases in Spain started to tick upward, and in August the numbers in France began rising. By September, Spanish covid-19 deaths had increased by a factor of ten, and France, for the first time, had recorded more than ten thousand new coronavirus cases in a single day. “We do have a very serious situation unfolding before us,” Hans Kluge, the W.H.O. regional director for Europe, warned. Spikes soon followed in the U.K., Italy, Germany, and other countries. The virus, once confined to a few hotspots, was everywhere.

At first, European governments tried to avoid a return to the restrictions they’d used in February. But, as the virus filled I.C.U.s, they realized that they had no choice. This month, the United Kingdom entered a second national lockdown, with bans on gatherings of more than two people. In France, only schools, factories, and essential businesses remain open. Germany has announced “lockdown light,” with heavy restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms, and theatres. These measures seem to have come too late: Europe now accounts for nearly half the world’s new coronavirus cases. “They opened up much too fast,” Mitchell Katz, the president and C.E.O. of N.Y.C. Health + Hospitals, the largest public-hospital system in the U.S., told me. Over the summer, Europeans took vacations and went to bars and clubs, facilitating viral spread; genetic analyses suggest that travel to and from Spain, in particular, may have contributed significantly to the resurgence of infection. “The only way you can open up to that level is if you eradicate the virus,” Katz said. “And the only way you can eradicate the virus with today’s tools is if you’re a totalitarian government or on an island.” [ … ]

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