How Europe slowed its coronavirus cases from a torrent to a trickle

How Europe slowed its coronavirus cases from a torrent to a trickle, by Margherita Stancati.

When Western European countries began phasing out their lockdowns this spring, a surge of coronavirus cases was widely expected to follow. Months on — even as Europeans mingle in bars, restaurants and crowded beaches — that still hasn’t happened.

As a surge in cases forces a number of U.S. states to reimpose restrictions, Europe’s reopening is for the most part going according to plan.

That is largely because of marked changes in social behaviour across much of Europe, following widespread efforts by policy makers to drill the public to follow a simple, three-pronged approach: Keep a distance when possible, enhance hygiene and wear a mask when necessary. Older people, who are more vulnerable, are especially careful.

People in Europe understood what they need to do. They take it seriously,” says Ilaria Capua, an Italian virologist at the University of Florida. …

Crucially, experts say, European countries that slowed the incidence of Covid-19 down to a trickle have all continued to ban so-called superspreading events — mass gatherings such as soccer matches and concerts that are believed to have acted as incubators for the pandemic. …

Even in Sweden, which never instituted a lockdown and has suffered a high mortality rate, the number of new cases has plateaued as people observe distancing rules amid a ban of large-scale events. …

What failed:

It is a striking contrast with the beginning of the crisis.

Then, political leaders minimised the risk, people largely shunned face masks or social distancing, and banning crowds from soccer matches or other large events seemed unthinkable. In March, even as the case count mounted, thousands participated in a Smurf-themed parade in France, dressing up like the blue cartoon characters in a show of defiance against the virus. …

The US is still not serious:

In the U.S., “we are pushing this idea that we have to live with the virus, that there’s nothing we can do. That’s not true: Europe shows you can turn the epidemic around,” says Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. …

While in parts of the U.S. mask wearing is mandatory and widely adhered to, in other areas such orders are sparking political and legal battles. In Georgia, for instance, Gov. Brian Kemp filed a lawsuit last week to block a number of coronavirus restrictions, such as obligatory mask wearing, introduced by the mayor of Atlanta …

“Large gatherings, especially indoors, are very, very dangerous,” says Dr. Jha, of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

“When I look at Europe, there is no single, best way: There are lots of ways,” he adds. “There is no magic formula, but they all begin with taking the virus seriously and not having debates about inane things.”

Every advanced country except the US has subdued or eliminated the virus. Not closing the borders properly is the obvious primary reason for this failure, but not taking it seriously is up there too.

hat-tip Stephen Neil