Mar 12, 2021 - World

Europe's new coronavirus spike is a warning to the U.S.

Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

A surge in coronavirus infections in Europe makes clear the stakes of the race in the U.S. between vaccines and new variants.

Why it matters: Europe and North America, two of the regions hit hardest by the pandemic, both saw sharp declines in cases and deaths beginning in January. Then, Europe's decline gave way to a new spike. America's already slowing decline could slip into reverse next.

Stephen Kissler, a researcher at Harvard who models the spread of COVID-19, says the U.S. is "lagging a couple of weeks behind many of the countries in Europe that are starting to see rises in cases right now."

  • "I think we should take that as a very serious warning that that can and very well might happen here as well," Kissler says.
  • The lesson from Europe is "it's possible for these variants to cause surges in Covid during a time of year when you might not expect it," he adds.

What's happening: Europe's latest wave has been particularly destructive in Central European countries like the Czech Republic and Poland, but cases are now rising sharply in Italy and beginning to tick up in France and elsewhere in Western Europe.

  • Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization's regional director for Europe, cites two factors: variants, particularly the one discovered in the U.K., and premature reopenings.
  • The U.K. variant is now dominant in at least eight EU countries, per AP, including France, Germany and Italy. The variant is far more contagious and also appears to be more deadly.
  • The U.K. did manage to bring its variant-driven spike under control, but it took a strict lockdown that has dragged on since December.

What to watch: The increasing rate of vaccination in the U.S. and the arrival of warmer weather both work to America's advantage, Kissler says.

  • So while the U.S. should take heed of the "very clear warning," Kissler says, it's possible that the U.S. could avoid a similar outcome.

Worth noting: Vaccine rollouts are moving much more slowly in the EU than the U.S., making Europe's challenge of vaccinating its way out of the current surge that much more difficult.

Go deeper: Vaccines and stimulus pave the way for a big, uneven global recovery.

Go deeper