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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The long-feared autumn spike in coronavirus cases has arrived, both in Europe and in the U.S. — and there's a huge difference in how the two regions are reacting. Europe is on an emergency footing, while America ... isn't.

Why it matters: We've seen this movie before, and we've seen the need for coordinated government action, from public-health agencies to fiscal policy to monetary policy. That's happening in Europe. It's not happening here.

The big picture: Europe has strict lockdowns in Ireland, the U.K., France, Spain, Poland, Austria, and the Czech Republic; the U.S. has strict lockdowns nowhere.

  • Europe is also taking unprecedented fiscal measures, collectively underwriting an $850 billion relief package for the bloc's poorest members.
  • The European Central Bank is redoubling its efforts to maximize economic growth both now and in the future, and is working closely with fiscal authorities. Effectively, the ECB can rely on member-state governments to provide good public-sector jobs and unemployment benefits, clearing the way for the central bank to support the private sector.

In America, there's much less urgency and almost zero coordination. Lockdowns are limited to a handful of 10pm restaurant curfews, while economic policy has become irredeemably politicized along left-right lines.

  • A new Brookings report shows that Democrats and Republicans "represent radically different swaths of the economy" — and that the Republican Party "sees no reason to consider the priorities and needs of the nation's metropolitan centers," where most of service industries hit the hardest by the pandemic are based. (New York's theaters, for instance, will have been dark for well over a year when they finally reopen.)
  • American policymakers, especially on the right, are also much more likely to look to the stock market as an indicator of the health of the economy. The March plunge in stock prices helped catalyze the CARES Act; now that stocks are back near record highs, appetite for further stimulus has diminished considerably.
  • The bond market has also weakened to the point at which bond yields have effectively made monetary conditions significantly tighter. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has risen from as low as 0.51% in August to 0.98% now. That's the equivalent of two full rate hikes, and it's not obvious what the Fed can do about it, or whether they're willing to do it.
Data: COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Axios Visuals

The bottom line: Lockdowns can't last indefinitely. But the news that Pfizer has developed a successful vaccine means that the end of the beginning is in sight.

  • Aggressive government action can no longer be disparaged as merely delaying the inevitable; rather, it's a way of avoiding the worst until the vaccine arrives. But I still wouldn't bet on it happening.

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - World

EU grants conditional approval of AstraZeneca vaccine

Photo: Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The European Commission on Friday granted conditional approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people 18 years and older.

Why it matters: This is the third vaccine to receive approval from the commission, coming hours after the Emergency Medicines Agency recommended its authorization.

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.