Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Europe’s New Covid Wave – WSJ

Europe’s New Covid Wave - WSJ

Commuters wear face masks on a platform of the main train station Hauptbahnhof, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues in Berlin, Oct. 16.


fabrizio bensch/Reuters

One of the biggest falsehoods of 2020 is the notion that everyone other than the United States has a handle on Covid-19. This distortion undergirds Democratic and media criticism of President Trump and some governors for not locking down as aggressively as the Spanish or tracing contacts as assiduously as the Germans.

If only this were true. Instead, most places that have been held forth as coulda-woulda-shoulda models for Washington are now in the grip of their second virus wave. Nor are their pandemic politics any less messy.

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Take Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel has been hailed as a leadership model. Germany quickly implemented a test-and-trace program to isolate cases and adopted a relatively mild spring lockdown that seemed to control the spread. Mrs. Merkel won plaudits for her bracing, science-driven media appearances, with credibility bolstered by her earlier career as a chemist.

No longer. Cases started rising again in August and as of this week the number of daily new cases exceeds the spring’s high. The number of deaths is still well short of the spring level, but German pandemic policy has descended into chaos anyway. Some cities have reimposed restrictions, or have added limits on nightlife not seen since the Allied occupation of the 1940s. Berlin faces new political disputes as some states try to ban hotel bookings made by residents of virus hot spots.

Spain and Italy bore the brunt of the spring’s first wave, and their draconian lockdowns were supposed to be a model for bringing a major outbreak under control. It hasn’t stuck. Spain is the epicenter of Europe’s second wave, with cases several times higher than in March and April and deaths rising too. The government has tried to reimpose a lockdown in some areas, but this time with fierce resistance from politicians and businesses wary of doing as much damage to the economy.

France also imposed a strict lockdown in the spring and is also suffering a large second wave. Authorities have imposed new curfews in some cities, including Paris. And police reportedly have raided the homes of some current and former officials as part of an investigation into the government’s earlier pandemic response.

In the United Kingdom, Covid-19 threatens to wreck Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government. Cases and hospitalizations are surging again, despite the alleged success of the spring lockdown. But local officials in the hardest-hit areas object to being singled out for regional lockdowns and demand national restrictions instead. The feud is dividing Mr. Johnson’s Tories while policy vacillations dent his credibility.

These European governments have at least learned lessons from earlier mistakes. The main one is that general lockdowns are no solution. Despite headlines about a return to lockdown in Europe, governments now use that term to mean restrictions that are much milder than the spring’s stay-home orders. Joe Biden might be the only politician in the West who hasn’t figured this out.

Our point isn’t that U.S. policies have been any better. Leaders in most of the world put too much faith in lockdowns, and in experts who derided alternatives such as Sweden’s experiment with a more calibrated response that kept most of the economy and schools open.

But if Mr. Biden wins next month, it will be in no small part because he managed to persuade voters that there was some “better” way to handle the pandemic. He can’t say what that way is. Except for mandating masks and more sympathy for lockdowns, his proposals are the same as the Trump Administration’s. Europe’s struggles are proving that, short of a perfect vaccine, there is no magic solution to Covid.

Potomac Watch: Democratic National Convention speakers are claiming Joe Biden already has a proven track record of handling pandemics. But the reality of the Obama-Biden response to H1N1 in 2009 differs from their own version of events. Image: Corbis via Getty Images

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