Over the summer, most of Western Europe had seen substantial success in its battle against the coronavirus after the initial, catastrophic first wave. Serious spring lockdowns across the continent had their intended effect: far lower case rates than the U.S. and the return of at least some semblance of normal life from Madrid to Rome.
A few months later, the story is drastically different. Much of Europe is now seeing a major coronavirus surge, to the point that the European Union countries (with 28 countries and roughly 100 million more people than the U.S.) has surpassed America — which is also seeing its own sharp spike — in current cases overall.
France has emerged as a particular hot spot, with 120,000 cases over the past week. And in an echo of the spring, hospital capacity is being raised as a potential problem, with French officials warning that COVID patients could make up as much of 90 percent of intensive care unit capacity by the end of October.
The surge in cases is also evident in newly restrictive policies around the continent this week: French prime minister Emmanuel Macron imposed a nightly curfew for large swathes of the country; U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs in hard-hit areas closed; even Germany, which saw far more success than some of its European peers in controlling the virus, is putting in place new restrictions around large gatherings and mask wearing.
It is unlikely that many, if any, countries will institute the kind of strict lockdowns that allowed Europe to make quick progress in reducing cases back in the spring. Instead, most governments will likely take incremental steps to try to slow the virus where it is spreading most, in the hopes that more drastic measures are not needed before a vaccine’s arrival.