From the first waves of the pandemic, it was clear that some countries did a better job than others. The likes of Iceland, New Zealand, or South Korea stood out from the pack, but there were also some surprising success stories. Central European countries, for instance, fared remarkably well.
But that’s not the case anymore. The Czech Republic, a country of 11 million people, is at almost 10,000 new cases a day, while France is hitting close to 30,000 new cases. Even in Germany, the European role model, cases are starting to surge.
The second wave has come in Europe.
Summer has come and gone in Europe, and with 10% of the continent’s population working in tourism everyone was itching for a vacation (or a workplace). After the initial peaks in spring, the number of cases started to drop and European countries gradually relaxed the lockdown measures. This relaxation was coupled with so-called “pandemic fatigue” — people becoming more frustrated with restriction measures and less likely to follow public health practices — and in European countries, cases started to rise even more than in the first wave.
During the country’s first wave, France’s daily numbers of new cases peaked at 7,500 on March 31. The new peak of 26,675 new cases dwarves it and shows few signs of slowing down. Spain recorded over 30,000 cases last week, with 20,000 of these coming from the Madrid region.
Europe’s coronavirus resurgence points to an important element of this pandemic: restriction fatigue. After months of restrictions, with a faltering economy, people are sick and tired of restriction measures. The European countries that had a low number of cases in the first stage did so on the back of tight lockdowns — but tight lockdowns aren’t sustainable and should only be used as a last resort.
WHO Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge acknowledged that “It is easy and natural to feel apathetic and demotivated, to experience fatigue”, and he encouraged authorities to look for “new, innovative ways” to reinvigorate the fight against COVID-19.
This brings a new level to the dimmer switch approach that researchers proposed since February. The dimmer switch says that as cases start rising, restriction measures are tightened, and as the cases drop, they’re lowered. But as many were worried right from the get-go, actually sticking to this plan is fiendishly difficult. When Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez introduced travel restrictions to and from Madrid, this sparked protests and earned his government a “criminal and totalitarian” label from critics. In Germany and France,
Another important consideration is that Europe has been largely spared by major pandemics over the past century. This has been good for Europeans, but it has also left them more unprepared and reluctant to adhere to tight restrictions.
In comparison, many Asian countries took the threat of COVID-19 more seriously from the beginning, implementing strict mask-wearing and physical distancing early in the pandemic.