That’s in part a reflection of a far more expanded testing regime in place than when America first reeled under the spread of the virus in March and April. But it is also evidence of an autumnal surge in the virus that’s buffeting both sides of the Atlantic.
Hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise. In Europe, countries posted new milestones in caseloads over the weekend amid new rounds of curfews and lockdowns. A number of countries on the continent now lead the world in rates of infection. French President Emmanuel Macron, whose nation is among the worst afflicted, said Friday that his compatriots should be prepared to live with the virus “at best until next summer.”
Meadows insisted that U.S. authorities were “going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation.” But until such methods of mitigation are available and widely implemented, experts advocate the sort of mask-wearing mandates and strict contact tracing and testing systems that President Trump has shied away from encouraging. Trump’s critics have slammed the administration for failing to impose a genuine plan to curtail infections. A fresh outbreak of the virus among White House staffers, including Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, seemed to underscore the administration’s helplessness and negligence in the face of the pandemic.
“They surrendered without firing a shot,” New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said on a call Sunday with reporters. “It was the great American surrender.”
European leaders are bracing for disaster, too. After a summer of reopenings and revived travel and tourism, a second wave is ravaging countries that both evaded and suffered from the first. France reported a daily record in cases on Sunday. Cases in Poland doubled in less than three weeks (and the country’s president now has the virus). In the Czech Republic, more than 250,000 people in a country of 10.7 million are infected.
Spain declared a state of emergency on Sunday, as it became the first European nation to cross more than 1 million recorded coronavirus cases, though officials suspect the real figure could be three times as high because of testing gaps. A nighttime curfew is now in place between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. in all of Spain’s regions, with the exception of the Canary Islands. “We are living in an extreme situation. … It is the most serious in the last half-century,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, urging Spaniards to stay home.
In Belgium, the country’s hospital systems and testing infrastructure are already overloaded, with authorities fearful of shortages of key essential workers, from medical staff to police officers in the streets. “The situation is catastrophic,” Philippe Devos, an intensive care doctor at the CHC Montlégia Hospital in Liège, the worst-hit Belgian city, told my colleagues. “Liège is now probably the most affected region in the world. We have a lot of doctors and nurses affected. But, starting this week, positive cases were asked to go back to work if they are asymptomatic.”
Across the continent, leading officials sounded the same notes of alarm heard half a year ago, when politicians spoke somberly of the collective sacrifice and vigilance required of their publics. “These are difficult days,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said Sunday, as Italy imposed its harshest restrictions since spring. “The curve of contagion is growing in the world. And in all Europe, the wave is very high. We must react immediately and with determination if we want to avoid unsustainable numbers.”
That’s a harder pitch the second time around. Governments in Europe, many of which represent countries now deep in recession, were wary of further shutdowns that would hurt industry and add to the unemployment rolls. But such binding measures now seem a necessity, while talks over possible safe trade and travel “corridors” between certain major cities and regions seem premature.
“The sweeping national rules in several countries suggest a growing belief that initial efforts by European leaders to avoid reimposing economically punishing lockdowns in favor of regional restrictions focusing on virus hot spots might not be enough,” wrote my colleague Ruby Mellen.
Experts point to successful mitigation efforts in Asia, where countries such as South Korea and Vietnam have far more effectively warded off a second wave than counterparts in the West.
“Waiting for the virus to magically disappear, allowing it to run its course through society, or imposing continual lockdown measures without a clear strategy beyond waiting for a vaccine are all suboptimal choices that will damage our health, our economy and our society,” wrote Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh. “At what stage will Britain look towards east Asia and the Pacific and say, ‘We want what they have’?”
There are probably plenty of officials and public health experts in the United States bemoaning the exact same thing.