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Expand chart
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

Mitch McConnell's remarks on Black voters raise ire

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a Capitol Hill news conference earlier this year. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been widely criticized for comments he made this week about Black American voters.

Driving the news: When asked by a reporter Wednesday about concerns among voters of color, McConnell said "the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, Black American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump’s friends worry legal pick for N.Y. case lacks experience

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Close associates and advisers to Donald Trump tell Axios they're concerned by his decision to use a relatively inexperienced New Jersey attorney, Alina Habba, in his high-stakes legal fight against New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Why it matters: A former president typically has access to the country's most prestigious experts, including lawyers. Trump has turned to the former general counsel for a parking garage company, who works from a small law office near his Bedminster, N.J., country club.

U.S. charges 4 Belarus officials with air piracy in journalist's arrest

A Boeing 737-8AS Ryanair passenger plane from Athens, Greece, that was diverted to Minsk, Belarus, in May. Photo: Petras Malukas/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department on Thursday charged four Belarusian government officials with conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy as part of an operation to arrest a dissident Belarusian journalist.

Why it matters: Prosecutors say the officials fabricated a bomb threat aboard a Ryanair flight carrying the journalist Raman Pratasevich last May, forcing it to land in Minsk, Belarus instead.