Phillip Meylan - Oct 6, 2020

The Covid Comeback: What's Different This Time?

Florida recently ordered a return to normal, with restaurants and bars reopening to 100% capacity. Such policies would lead one to believe that the worst is over. But in other parts of the world, and indeed in parts of the U.S., Covid-19 is very much on the rise, sparking fears of a “second” or even “third wave.” Can we expect the same in the U.S.? Is reopening a prelude to new rounds of shutdowns? Are lockdowns inevitable or are there other strategies that can avert such a resurgence of cases?

Observing countries abroad reveals three clear messages:

  1. Covid-19 is growing again in places that had mostly subdued the virus. From Canada to the UK to Israel, cases have rebounded with variable timing and ferocity, and views from around the world warn against the dangers of reopening too far or too quickly.

  2. Policy responses are different this time around. Strict nationwide lockdowns have been eschewed for more targeted measures, like locking down the specific regions that are experiencing outbreaks or limiting activities and gatherings where spreading is likely, such as at bars and weddings.

  3. Avoiding stricter, wider-spread lockdowns is dependent on adherence to the basics of containing the virus: wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, using contact tracing to track infections early, washing hands, and limiting behavior that is likely to spread the virus. 

This week, The Factual took a deep dive on the state of Covid-19 cases worldwide using 47 articles from 32 outlets from across the political spectrum and around the world. We examine where cases are rising, why outbreaks may be different this time, and how the U.S. might be able to avoid a resurgence in the virus.

 

Source: Wall Street Journal

Cases Are on the Rise

While there are countries that still seem to be keeping the virus at bay — South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and New Zealand — many countries are seeing rapid increases in cases, and experts are sure this isn’t simply a function of increased testing. In Europe, for example, the latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows case counts clearly elevating in recent weeks in Austria, Belarus, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the UK. Regardless of whether you use the term “second wave,” these countries are experiencing resurgences in cases. 

Source: Statista

Further abroad, Israel has become the first advanced economy to fully reimplement a second nationwide lockdown after new case counts topped 5,000 per day. In Iran, where data has been suspect from the start, the rate of new cases is now the highest since February when the virus first hit. And while these renewed surges in Covid-19 cases are alarming, places like Brazil and and India are yet to see any significant let up in the rate of new infections and, together with the U.S., account for the countries with the most infections in the world.

The global variation in these trends is difficult to classify, but looking at specific cases for comparison can be instructive. How are countries reacting? And what lessons can the U.S. learn from their experiences?

How Are Countries Responding?

Across the board, countries are responding with varied but less extreme policies to stop the spread of the virus and lockdown the worst areas without shutting down entirely nationwide. 

Just weeks ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was encouraging people in the UK to return to work, but on September 22, he urged a return to working from home for those who can, set a new curfew on pubs, and mandated mask wearing in the hospitality industry — all amid rapidly rising case counts. Localized lockdowns are being considered in the north of the country but are already in place in other parts of Europe, like in Spain, where the government recently locked down 4.8 million of Madrid’s residents. 

Changes are also coming closer to the U.S. Quebec last week became the first province to reintroduce some restrictions, “closing restaurants, cinemas, and theaters, and forbidding household visits to friends or family, with some exceptions.” These tools are meant to act as a scalpel instead of the blunt instrument of a nationwide lockdown, a rationale well captured by German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “[w]e want to act regionally, specifically and purposefully, rather than shutting down the whole country again — this must be prevented at all costs.” 

Source: The Telegraph

As part of their responses, policymakers are left to contemplate where they went wrong when lockdowns were eased in the past, opening the door to a return to the virus. The reasons all follow a familiar pattern — opening too broadly and too quickly. 

Spaniards point to a rapid reopening after what had been stringent but successful lockdown: “[t]he return of nightlife and group activities — far faster than most of its European neighbors — has contributed to the epidemic’s resurgence.” 

In Canada, the uptick is tied to “private social gatherings, such as parties hosted by young adults, dinner parties and weddings” and “children returning to school, workplaces reopening and cooler weather that is driving people indoors.” Experts in Israel, the one advanced economy that has had to revert to a nationwide lockdown,  point to the rapid opening of schools and relaxed restrictions on mass gatherings, all part of a general complacency toward the virus, not least among government officials. In recognition of this, leaders are being more cautious this time around, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Boris Johnson warning that the renewed restrictions in their respective countries could for months.

How Is It Different This Time?

While these countries only represent a handful of country experiences, they are informative to U.S. policymakers and may help foreshadow the weeks and months ahead. It’s apparent that Covid-19 can readily resurge, but there are some things that might be different this time around. 

As many have pointed out, the death rate from Covid-19 has fallen significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. For one, health systems, here and in many places abroad, are better prepared to treat Covid-19 patients. We may be months from an effective vaccine, but we now have a range of medical strategies that seem to be limiting the worst symptoms of the virus, including the use of steroids, remdesivir (an antiviral drug effective in serious cases), and even slight physical adjustments (like that placing patients in a prone position can enhance oxygen intake). The reduction is also likely a result of more young people being infected recently, who are naturally less susceptible to the virus. Either way, a combination of these and other factors have indeed reduced the mortality rate substantially from this spring. However, complacency on this account could be dangerous, since rising case counts could overload health systems and lead to less effective treatment and higher death rates.

“Many of the new restrictions, however, look different to those imposed at the beginning of the pandemic. Rather than implementing uniform, nationwide regulations, many countries are now opting for more localized approaches.” - Time

More broadly, most governments now recognize that nationwide, strict lockdowns need to be reserved for only the most worrisome of circumstances. Blanket lockdowns were critical in the first months when testing was nearly nonexistent and cases were skyrocketing, but now we have the tools to wage a far more effective war against the virus through testing, contact tracing, and targeted restrictions, like those being implemented in the UK, Canada, and Spain. Rather than closing all of society, we now know we can target gatherings of people, indoor spaces with poor circulation, and industries with high person-to-person contact. When those measures fail to contain the spread, strict but geographically limited lockdowns may be necessary to stop surges. For example, Australia recently reversed a renewed spike in cases through a strict lockdown in Melbourne and limitations on interstate travel. While these moves still have ramifications, selective imposition of such measures can serve to blunt the economic damage from the pandemic and policy responses, which have wreaked havoc on low-income populations, small businesses, and the people who can generally afford foregone income the least.

“If countries are responding, slowing down their reopening, making targeted changes to slow the spread of the virus, hopefully we can keep things in check before it escapes onto that exponential growth pathway.”  - Dr. Peter Drobac/VOA News

The most important message will perhaps be the most difficult to learn and abide by. To avoid subsequent surges in the U.S. and lockdowns in response, continued vigilance is necessary in social distancing measures, mask wearing, hand washing, and general behaviors that limit dangerous person-to-person contact. Just as we’ve learned that the virus is better fought not with blanket restrictions, countries abroad are demonstrating that society can’t yet comprehensively open up. Evidence shows that those countries that ease restrictions too much or too quick are bound to see the pendulum shift quickly back in the other direction. As the Telegraph illustrates, “those countries which have the most relaxed lockdown restrictions are seeing more pronounced surges.” Success, for now, most likely looks like purposeful and continual everyday measures to keep case counts low and targeted lockdowns only where and when severe outbreaks emerge.

European countries, thus far, have shown an ability to address the uptick in cases without stringent, wide-reaching lockdowns. That is good news. But as places like Florida continue to remove restrictions, one can see that relaxing Covid-19 measures too far — or failing to place stringent-enough measures in the first place — can spur a rapid return for the virus. In many other countries, it already has.


Appendix

Below is a list of the articles used to inform this analysis. To learn more about how The Factual scored article credibility, visit out How It Works page.

Title

Author

Publisher

Publisher Bias

Credibility Grade

Left

The new Covid-19 case surge in Europe, explained

Julia Belluz

Vox

Left

92%

Europe's COVID-19 Cases Are Spiking. Here's How 4 Different Countries Are Trying to Stop A Second Wave

Mélissa Godin

Time Magazine

Moderate Left

89%

One big wave' – why the Covid-19 second wave may not exist

Peter Beaumont, Emma Graham-Harrison

The Guardian

Moderate Left

88%

As Cases Surge, Pandemic Restrictions Again Descend on Quebec

Dan Bilefsky, Ian Austen

New York Times

Moderate Left

87%

Everyone thought Germany and Italy weren’t seeing a second wave of the coronavirus ... now maybe they are

Holly Ellyatt

CNBC

Moderate Left

85%

In Germany, the state of Bavaria is enacting new restrictions, but the country likely won't have to go back into a full lockdown.

N/A

Business Insider

Moderate Left

83%

‘Here We Go Again’: A Second Virus Wave Grips Spain

Patrick Kingsley, José Bautista

New York Times

Moderate Left

82%

‘Zero Progress’: The Fall Coronavirus Surge Is Already Here

Justin Rohrlich

Daily Beast

Left

82%

What Lockdown 2.0 Looks Like: Harsher Rules, Deeper Confusion

Damien Cave

New York Times

Moderate Left

81%

How Israel Became the First Rich Country to Go Into a Second Nationwide Coronavirus Lockdown

Joseph HIncks

Time Magazine

Moderate Left

80%

Second Coronavirus Wave Seems to Be Making Israelis Less Sick, Doctors Say

Ido Efrati

Haaretz

Moderate Left

79%

There’s a Simple Reason Spain Has Been Hit Hard by Coronavirus

David Jiménez

New York Times

Moderate Left

77%

Alarming Data Show a Third Wave of COVID-19 Is About to Hit the U.S.

Chris Wilson, Jeffrey Kluger

Time Magazine

Moderate Left

76%

Lockdowners v libertarians: Britain’s coronavirus divide

Rob McKie, Toby Helm

The Guardian

Moderate Left

75%

The end of small business

James Kwak

Washington Post

Moderate Left

75%

Coronavirus: Campaign to encourage workers back to offices

N/A

BBC News

Moderate Left

74%

New Zealand "beat the virus again," PM Jacinda Ardern says

Rebecca Falconer

Axios

Moderate Left

73%

Coronavirus: What could a 'circuit-breaker' lockdown look like?

Daisy Lester

The Independent

Moderate Left

71%

A second coronavirus lockdown in Canada? Experts discuss the likelihood

Rachael D'Amore

Global News

Moderate Left

71%

Boris Johnson tells people to work from home and says coronavirus restrictions could last for the next 6 months

Adam Payne, Thomas Colson, Adam Bienkov

Business Insider

Moderate Left

69%

As Americans brace for 2nd wave of COVID-19, here's why experts predict more infections but lower death rate

Anna Von Oehsen

ABC News

Moderate Left

69%

Netanyahu: Lockdown will last at least a month, possibly much longer

TOI Staff

Times of Israel

Moderate Left

65%

Germany: Angela Merkel unveils new coronavirus measures

N/A

DW

Moderate Left

63%

Center and Not Rated

Trump Misleads on Reasons for Falling COVID-19 Fatality Rate

Jessica McDonald

FactCheck.org

Center

97%

Good news stories from Vietnam’s second wave – involving dragon fruit burgers and mask ATMs

Ba-Linh Tran, Robyn Klinger-Vidra

The Conversation

Center

81%

Spain virologists say the country’s second virus wave holds a valuable lesson for the rest of the world

Barbara Kollmeyer

MarketWatch

Center

79%

Thanks for the chaos': Madrid returns to lockdown

Belén Carreño, Emma Pinedo

Reuters

Center

73%

Israel’s Cautionary Coronavirus Tale

Joshua Mitnick

Foreign Policy

Center

72%

Taiwan’s COVID-19 Success Story Continues as Neighbors Fend Off New Outbreaks

Nick Aspinwall

The Diplomat

Center

71%

Australia records first day without COVID-19 death in two months

Colin Packham

Reuters

Center

70%

Europe Scrambles to Stop Second Wave of COVID-19

Henry Ridgwell

VOA News

Center

65%

Coronavirus in the U.S.: Where cases are growing and declining

N/A

National Geographivc

Center

60%

Covid-19 Making a Dangerous Comeback in Most Parts of U.S.

Jonathan Levin, Kristen V. Brown

Bloomberg

N/A

N/A

Coronavirus second wave: Which countries in Europe are experiencing a fresh spike in COVID-19 cases?

Mathieu Pollet

euronews

N/A

N/A

Economic Fallout From COVID-19 Continues To Hit Lower-Income Americans the Hardest

Kim Parker, Rachel Minkin, Jesse Bennett

Pew Research Center

Center

N/A

Right

Epidemiologists uncertain whether long-feared autumn second wave of COVID-19 will materialize

David Hogberg

Washington Examiner

Moderate Right

79%

Are You Ready for a Second Round of Pandemic Lockdowns?

J.D. Tuccille

Reason

Moderate Right

77%

Covid-19 Cases Tick Up in New York as U.S. Infections Edge Down

Melanie Grace West, Talal Ansari

Wall Street Journal

Moderate Right

76%

How South Korea Successfully Managed Coronavirus

Timothy W. Martin, Dasl Yoon

Wall Street Journal

Moderate Right

73%

Is a second wave beginning to sweep through Europe?

Sarah Newey, Dominic Gilbert, Alex Clark

The Telegraph

Moderate Right

73%

UK Covid-19 cases and deaths: how the UK is coping with a second wave

Dominic Gilbert, Ashley Kirk, Bruno Riddy

The Telegraph

Moderate Right

71%

U.K. And France Break Daily Coronavirus Case Record As Europe Braces For Second Pandemic Wave

Carlie Porterfield

Forbes

Moderate Right

71%

Latest local lockdown rules as Liverpool and Teesside put under new restrictions

Harry Yorke, Dominic Penna, Georgina Hayes, Max Stephens

The Telegraph

Moderate Right

70%

Netherlands Sets New Covid-19 Record For 5 Days In A Row

Joe Walsh

Forbes

Moderate Right

69%

Covid-19 Cases Jump in Canada, Prompting New Restrictions

Paul Vieira

Wall Street Journal

Moderate Right

68%

New Covid-19 Cases Started to Decline in Hard-Hit Latin America

Samantha Pearson, Lucina Magalhaes

Wall Street Journal

Moderate Right

67%

As Covid-19 Fatigue Fuels Infections in Europe, Italy Resists Second Wave

Eric Sylvers, Margherita Stancatti

Wall Street Journal

Moderate Right

N/A

 

Written by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, editor, and researcher. Before completing his MSc in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2019, he worked as an editor and content strategist for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. When he’s not working, you can find him playing soccer, hiking, or cooking.

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