Europe locks down; U.S. lets up

CONTINENTAL DIVIDE — At the very outset of the pandemic, the American approach to curbing Covid cases didn’t seem all that different from Europe’s. Many American states and European countries closed restaurants and bars, shut down schools, stopped travel and limited gatherings.

Now the United States is heading into its third wave of Covid infections in seven months, while Europe is engulfed in a second wave of infections spreading rapidly across the U.K. and continent. The U.K. and the countries in the EU are recording more than 100,000 new Covid cases a day combined, more than triple the April peaks.

This time around, as both waves crest, the responses on each side of the Atlantic couldn’t be more different. Many states in the U.S. have been gradually lifting virus restrictions as cases continue to climb. Already by May, with the exception of the Northeast, many states that had imposed restrictions lifted them before their case counts were under control. And now, as cases hit new peaks across the Midwest, states in the region continue to resist new restrictions. In North Dakota, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum refused business closures and gathering limits last week.

Europe is basically doing the opposite: Belgium is closing all bars and restaurants for a month starting today and limiting social contacts. The U.K. introduced a new three-tier system that imposes different sets of restrictions on different regions, but stopped short of a total lockdown. Ireland is shutting stores and limiting people’s movement to a five-kilometer radius of their homes. France and Germany have nightly curfews.

“There’s less transmission currently than in some other European countries,” said Bloomberg’s Naomi Kresge of Germany, during a roundtable conversation this morning with your host, POLITICO’s Ryan Heath and reporters in London and Brussels. Still, she said,“In Berlin, we are not supposed to meet with more than 10 people or more than two households at one time.”

One thing the two continents have in common: Pandemic fatigue is everywhere. European countries had a months-long respite from the pandemic over the summer as cases plummeted. Now they are acting too late and haphazardly to prevent a second wave. Cases are skyrocketing. Hospitalizations and deaths will follow.

But many Europeans are rejecting pandemic fatigue in order to avoid reliving the early days of the virus. In the U.K., masks are now required in more public spaces, said POLITICO’s chief U.K. correspondent Charlie Cooper. “The Brits have quietly accepted that and got on with it,” Charlie said about the mask rule. “We’ve seen how serious the situation was and being a little bit behind the curve on that particular point. I think a lot of people just say, ‘Well, yeah, it’s about time.’”

In much of the U.S., however, the Covid warning signs both here at home and across the pond aren’t accompanied by a desire to return to the very early days of Covid restrictions. Texas’s Republican Gov. Greg Abbott lifted restrictions on bars last week, even as hospitalizations in the state remain high. California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is letting more…

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