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The pandemic has come storming back to Europe, and hope of a return to normality is being replaced by a much more ominous prospect: the return to lockdown.
The big picture: Case counts in countries like France and Spain have skyrocketed past the numbers seen during the spring peak. While that’s partially due to more widespread testing, it’s now clear that deaths are climbing too.
Breaking it down: In the first two weeks of August, a total of 668 people died of COVID-19 across Spain, France, the U.K., Italy and Germany — remarkably low given the U.S., which has a similar population, was averaging roughly twice as many per day at that time.
What to watch: Sky-high case counts and a reluctance to impose full lockdowns mean the question is less whether these countries can quickly return to the relative calm of August, than whether they can avoid a return to April's brutal reality.
The outlook is nonetheless grim. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s director for Europe, said today that if the current trajectory holds, death rates will be four or five times higher in January than they were in April.
But with weary populations and wounded economies, governments are highly reluctant to impose the strict lockdowns that snapped into place across Europe last March.
The same politicians who are now ordering people to stay home and limit their contacts were only recently offering incentives to travel domestically or dine out.
The big picture: As Europe emerged from the protective crouch of lockdown, governments were anxious to revive their economies, and people seized the opportunity to resume something approximating "normal" life.
Countries like Spain and Italy opened their borders to tourists, while large gatherings returned swiftly in countries like the Czech Republic that weren't hit hard by the first wave.
In many countries, spikes have been driven largely by younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill. But at least in the U.K., cases are now rising quickly among people over 65.
What they're saying: "We must call especially on young people to do without a few parties now in order to have a good life tomorrow or the day after," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Macron announced Wednesday that Paris and eight other metro areas will be under a 9pm to 6am curfew for at least the next six weeks.
The big picture: Like other European leaders, he's is attempting to slow the spread through restrictions that are regional in scope and less severe than those imposed in the spring. The current uptick "justifies neither being inactive nor panicked," he said.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
England is also facing new tiered restrictions, with Liverpool first to enter a local lockdown and London now facing "tier two" restrictions, which include a ban on indoor gatherings involving multiple households.
Other parts of the U.K. are moving more quickly.
What to watch: Johnson has been caught between two prerogatives throughout the pandemic — his sober commitment to "follow the science" and his instinctive opposition to heavy-handed restrictions.
The big picture: The U.K. was remarkably united throughout the first wave. That's not the case heading into the second.
Driving the news: Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he'd "stand firm" against plans to shift his city to "tier three" — which would see pubs closed and travel restricted — unless the government also provided economic support.
Bolivian presidential candidate Luis Arce. Photo: Nestor Alexis Gomez/picture alliance via Getty
1. Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbai Jeenbekov resigned today, saying he did not want to “go down in Kyrgyzstan’s history as a president who shed blood and shot at his own citizens.”
2. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced that he would disband an infamous police force following mass protests that have continued even after the announcement.
3. The EU unveiled sanctions on six Russian officials today, including the head of the FSB intelligence agency, over the nerve agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Is this more than four people? Photo: Getty Images
Protesters in Thailand are defying an emergency decree banning gatherings of more than four people, despite a crackdown that began on Wednesday and has seen three of the movement’s most prominent leaders arrested.
The big picture: The student-led protests have been among the largest in recent Thai history and the first to broach the taboo subject of monarchy reform. Now, the establishment is striking back.
Driving the news: The crackdown followed a remarkable scene on Wednesday. When a royal motorcade passed through Bangkok, demonstrators shouted protest slogans and made their trademark three-fingered salute.
The backstory: King Vajiralongkorn is legally immune to any scrutiny in Thailand, but the accounts that have emerged abroad (he lives mainly in Germany) portray him as eccentric and, in some cases, bitterly cruel.
Oh, to get away to Sicily. Photo: Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images
"It is good for a politician to look into the face of death."— Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to the Economist, reflecting on being poisoned