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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

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

In photos: Tokyo Olympics day 6 highlights

An underwater view of swimmers including Team USA's Caeleb Dressel (R) in the final of the Olympic Tokyo Games men's 100m freestyle on July 29. Photo: François-Xavier Marit/AFP via Getty Images

There's been plenty of Olympics drama on day six of the Tokyo Games Thursday — notably China's women's swimming team beating the U.S. and Australia in the record-setting 4x200-meter freestyle relay.

The big picture: Katie Ledecky helped the U.S. win silver, which also beat the previous world record smashed by China's team. Team USA grabbed two more swimming gold medals, when Caeleb Dressel won the men's 100m freestyle and Bobby Finke triumphed in the first men's Olympic 800m freestyle.

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Team USA's Simone Biles during the women's team final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on Tuesday in Japan. Photo: Fred Lee/Getty Images

🤸🏾‍♀️: Simone Biles reacts to "love and support" after withdrawing from all-around gymnastics and team finals, citing her mental health

🏊‍♂️: Caeleb Dressel wins gold in men's 100m freestyle —Bobby Finke wins gold in first men's Olympic 800m freestyle

📷: In photos: Tokyo Olympics day 6 highlights

🗓: The Olympic events to watch today

🎾: "This one sucks more than the others," Naomi Osaka says on upset loss

🏃‍: Female Olympians push back against double standard in uniforms

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage - Medal tracker

Updated 4 hours ago - Sports

China wins Olympic gold in women's 4x200m freestyle relay, sets world record

Junxuan Yang, Muhan Tang, Yufei Zhang and Bingjie Li of Team China react after winning the gold medal in the women's 4 x 200m freestyle relay final. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

China grabbed Olympic gold in the women's 4x200m freestyle relay, in a surprise record win in Tokyo Thursday.

The big picture: Katie Ledecky made up time as Team USA's final swimmer to help the U.S. take silver. Australia, which was the heavy favorite, won the bronze. All three teams finished ahead of the previous world record pace.