Europe’s Covid Lockdown Lessons – WSJ

At the risk of exciting some hugely excitable readers of my Wednesday Journal blog, here’s the latest from Europe on locking down as a solution to the Covid problem.

[What fools these mortals be:] Locals sit at a cafe [as if there were no such thing as a
mask] in Bordeaux South-Western France, September 15, 2020. [Comments are bracketed,
emphases are mind]

America’s Democrats often say they want to emulate Europe, and given their fondness for coronavirus lockdowns we can only hope this time they mean it. Parts of Europe, like parts of the U.S., are experiencing surges in new Covid-19 cases. Unlike many in the U.S., European leaders have learned from their earlier experiences with the virus.

The uptick in cases, as measured by positive tests, is noticeable across the Continent—with one exception we’ll come to in a moment. The renewed outbreak is worst in Spain and France, whose seven-day rolling average of new cases per million residents are about 215 and 130, respectively, from lows of about eight during the June lull. The rise elsewhere is less severe but still pronounced. Germany is up to 20 or so cases per million residents, from four earlier in the summer.

They got a problem.

These surges aren’t discriminating on the basis of previous government policies. Italy, Spain and the U.K. were serious hot spots in the pandemic’s first wave in the spring and all imposed strict lockdowns. All three are suffering new waves of the disease anyway. [!]

So is Germany, which avoided the worst ravages of the first wave. At the time, Berlin’s aggressive test-and-trace program coupled with a moderate lockdown were hailed as a public-health role model. Now it’s fairer to say the jury is out on whether Germany permanently suppressed the disease or merely delayed its inevitable spread.

European officials are noticing all of this. They also are noticing that although the new wave has brought more cases, so far the death rate has not been as high as in the spring, and hospitals are weathering the storm well. That’s why their enthusiasm for draconian national lockdowns is waning as the pandemic grinds on. Instead Europe is adopting narrow, local lockdowns and milder control measures.

. . . .

One theme is that politicians increasingly are alert to the health and economic dangers of mass lockdowns, including mass unemployment, missed education and psychological ills. Another theme is that European leaders are now more inclined to focus on individual responsibility than government action. “There is only so much a government can do,” Herman Goossens, coordinator of a European Union pandemic advisory panel, told the Journal this week. He suggests emphasizing steps individuals can take to control the virus’s spread, such as social distancing and mask wearing.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because that has been Sweden’s approach throughout the pandemic—and Sweden is the conspicuous exception to Europe’s new coronavirus wave. The country eschewed a mandatory lockdown and instead urged prudent individual measures such as working from home when possible and maintaining social distancing.

While it suffered a higher death toll earlier in the crisis—concentrated, as elsewhere, in nursing homes—a second wave has yet to materialize there. If this trend continues, it will provide an important point in the debate over what, if anything, the spring’s lockdowns elsewhere accomplished.

The most notable feature of Europe’s virus response is that policy makers’ judgments are evolving as leaders learn more about the virus and their countries’ ability to manage it. Americans might well ask when their politicians and media will become similarly adaptable in the face of an evolving pandemic.

Once the election is over, if Democrats win, they will see the light. If they don’t, who knows?

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