Politics Inside Europe's COVID second wave

02:25  28 september  2020
02:25  28 september  2020 Source:   thehill.com

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Countries across Europe are seeing a resurgence in COVID -19 cases after successfully slowing outbreaks early in the year. France, Poland, the Netherlands and Spain are likely dealing with the much-feared second wave and have started taking action to curb it.

Coronavirus cases in Europe are "almost back" to the levels seen in March when infection rates first peaked, scientists have warned as concerns grow over a potential second wave . French city uses muscular approach to enforce Covid -19 rules.

Here in Europe, the pandemic's long-predicted second wave has arrived with a vengeance, and it is driving infection rates through the roof in many countries that had succeeded in keeping the numbers down all summer. The past couple of weeks have shaken the complacency of many Europeans, forced a return to restrictions, and served as a powerful reminder that the coronavirus is cunning and relentless.

a man sitting at a table: Inside Europe's COVID second wave © Getty Images Inside Europe's COVID second wave

As an American living in Prague, I have had the opportunity to observe the ups and downs of the pandemic in the country that has gone from being one of Europe's success stories to one of its most dismal failures. At the beginning of April, I wrote a column in USA Today describing how the Czech Republic had shown courageous leadership and public policy resolve by becoming the first on the continent to take the bold step of mandating universal facemask-wearing, along with other measures. In early July, I wrote a follow-up column boasting of the triumph of this mask discipline, which had brought the daily new cases down into the double digits, almost insignificant for a country of 10.6 million.

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At first glance, the outlook doesn't seem too grim. While reported cases are reaching record highs as Europe endures a " second wave ," deaths are still well below their peak in April. But experts warn the signs point to more tragedy ahead this winter.

Spain has Europe ' s fastest-rising caseload two months after it lifted one of the strictest lockdowns. Spain saw one of the most draconian Covid -19 lockdowns in Europe , but two months after it was lifted, the virus is spreading faster than in any neighbouring nation.

But now in mid-September, those numbers have suddenly soared into the thousands. On a single day last week, the Czech Republic registered more than 3,100 new infections, which is the highest per-capita infection rate in Europe and almost 10 times as many as the worst day during the March/April surge. The number of those hospitalized has quadrupled over the past two weeks. Deaths are spiking. People across the country are scrambling to get tested. We have all been reluctantly compelled to dig our masks out of the drawer, as the government rushed to reimpose the requirement to keep mouths and noses covered in all public indoor spaces.

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Coronavirus cases reported across Europe reached a record high of 52,418 over a rolling seven-day average on September 22, according to CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. Hear Justin Trudeau' s sobering message on second Covid -19 wave .

00:00 As coronavirus cases rise in parts of Europe , governments have been reimposing restrictions just as many people take their summer holidays. Europe is

What happened here is a cautionary tale that carries lessons for other nations that are letting down their guard because they believe the pandemic is behind them.

After a spring marked by strict mask requirements, a tough lockdown period, and closed borders, the Czech Republic celebrated what appeared to be its unconditional victory in the battle against the coronavirus. Faced with few new infections, hardly any fatalities, and largely empty hospitals, the government ended virtually all restrictive measures, including mask requirements, in early June. In what now appears to have been a foolhardy display of hubris, the city of Prague on July 1 held a giant, open-air, "end of pandemic" celebratory dinner for 2,000 people on the historic Charles Bridge, with no masks or social distancing. As life in this beautiful medieval capital returned to normal, tourists from neighboring countries poured in, eager to share in our post-pandemic euphoria.

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European affairs >. Europe >. According to the Dr. Klaus Cichutek, president of thePaul-Eh rlich-Institut German research institute, every country should have enough intensive care units ready as well as places in hospitals for those people who suffer from COVID 19.

Australia. Europe . Latin America. Middle East. Spain is taking new measures to cut a spike in coronavirus cases, amid fears of a more widespread " second wave ". Catalonia has closed its nightlife for two weeks but cities outside the north-eastern region are also seeing a surge.

The September surge, which came seemingly out of nowhere, has dragged us back to reality. Although people here had heard about the likelihood of a second wave in the fall, few honestly believed it would happen. Lulled into complacency by the earlier successes, both the government and the residents of the Czech Republic had lapsed into smug overconfidence and a fanciful kind of wishful thinking. Other countries might still be forcing their citizens to wear masks and avoid dining in restaurants, but we had risen to the challenge and done what we had to do back in the spring - and therefore trusted that we were thankfully past all that nonsense.

It is now painfully clear that the decision to end the mask mandate was dangerously premature and ill-advised, especially when the country was carelessly lifting all economic restrictions, allowing large events, reopening its borders, and resuming classroom teaching in schools.

The Czech Republic, like many other European countries that effectively suppressed the pandemic during the summer, became complacent and failed to sustain its resolve and its vigilance. The Czechs had found a silver bullet that was working spectacularly well in the fight against coronavirus - mandatory mask-wearing - but foolishly abandoned it because people were wary of the inconvenience. Sadly, the irrational anti-mask movement in the U.S. has also begun to infect the thinking of a small but vocal minority in Europe as well.

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"[The second wave is] going to depend on your capability and your effectiveness when you do get these little blips of infection, which we will invariably get The fear is that Covid -19 could return as a second wave in the fall (with peaks in November and December) that coincides with influenza season.

Inside the Guardian. Spain has ringfenced more than 70,000 people in Galicia in the second local lockdown ordered in as many days, as one of Europe ’ s worst-affected countries in the Covid -19 pandemic scrambles to contain new flare-ups.

Political leaders here and elsewhere in Europe, desperate to put this crisis behind them, ignored constant warnings from the experts about the likelihood of a second wave that could be more severe than the first. In their rush to get everything back to normal, they left their citizens vulnerable. The result of this laxity will be more unnecessary suffering, more death, and more disruption to lives and livelihoods in the coming weeks and months.

The U.S., which has typically lagged a few weeks behind Europe in the progression of the pandemic, should take heed of the disastrous European experience and implement serious precautions in the hope of mitigating an inevitable fall surge. This is particularly important because Europe's second wave started from a much lower baseline than most U.S. states, which suffer from considerably higher per-capita rates of infection and death. The Czech Republic, for example, which has nearly the same population as the state of Georgia, Today still counts barely one-tenth as many cases of COVID-19. So the U.S. second wave could be more intense.

The lesson of the second wave in Europe is that hopefulness and magical thinking do not work against this determined enemy. Holding firm to the tough, well-established public health policies that have been scientifically proven to keep this pandemic at bay, especially mask mandates, might not be easy or popular. Still, it is our best protection for the foreseeable future.

Steven Kashkett served for 35 years as a U.S. career diplomat, retiring in 2018 after occupying senior positions at U.S. embassies in Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. He now lives in Prague and teaches at Charles University and the Anglo-American University there.

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