Though European governments have worked to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections this spring, there recently has been a surge of new coronavirus cases across the continent. In response, several European countries have re-imposed lockdowns. SIS professor Garret Martin, co-director of the Transatlantic Policy Center, shares his insights on this development below.
- Europe is in the middle of a serious second wave for the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdowns in the spring had successfully brought infections down from a peak of 30,000 cases in rolling average for the whole European Union to as low as 3,500 cases in early June. But after lifting lockdowns, cases started to rise once again during the late summer before exploding in recent weeks. The most recent data shows a rolling average of 180,000 cases, a six-fold increase from the peak number last spring.
- While the testing rate per capita has certainly increased significantly since the spring, it does not explain the current explosion of cases in the European Union. Instead, one can point to a sense of pandemic fatigue, marked by reduced compliance with social distancing measures and the misleading sense of security, alongside a seeming return to normal after the spring lockdowns were lifted. Additionally, the colder weather is driving people indoors, increasing the risks of transmission of the airborne virus.
- As summer gave way to fall and cases began to rise, European governments resisted, at first, the option of implementing new national lockdowns out of concern about the associated economic and social costs. They instead chose instead to adopt more targeted measures to keep the pandemic under control, including implementing curfews in selected cities, as in France, or closing certain essential businesses, as in Italy.
- However, these lighter options did not manage to stem the tide of infections. On October 22, Ireland became the first European country to follow a more drastic path, mandating a new six-week lockdown with a few small differences from the spring. This time, schools are remaining open. Additional countries have now followed Ireland’s example, with partial or more stringent lockdowns in countries such as Belgium, Germany, Greece, France, England, Italy, and Spain.
- The seeming inability of European governments to contain a resurgence of the pandemic, combined with the likely economic costs of renewed lockdowns, is fueling growing disillusion and protest movements in many parts of the continent. It also reflects the fact that the impact of the pandemic has been unequal, hurting certain groups and areas harder than others.