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Europe, which thought it had the coronavirus tamed, faces a resurgence

A medical worker wearing personal protective equipment waited for a patient at the drive-in COVID-19 testing station on Wednesday in Prague.MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images

LONDON — From France to Russia, from Britain to the Czech Republic, European leaders are confronting a surge in cases of the coronavirus, which is rapidly filling hospital beds, driving up death tolls and raising the grim prospect of further lockdowns in countries already traumatized by the pandemic.

The continent, which once compared favorably to the United States in its handling of the coronavirus, is being engulfed by a second wave of infection. Averaging more than 100,000 new infections per day over the past week, Europe now accounts for about one-third of new cases reported worldwide.

In the most vivid sign of the deteriorating situation, President Emmanuel Macron of France on Wednesday said he would impose a curfew of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the Paris region and eight other major metropolitan areas. “The virus is everywhere in France,” he told the French public as he declared a state of emergency starting Saturday.

The resurgence is also forcing officials to close bars and clubs in Prague and pubs and gyms in Liverpool, England, and to make face masks mandatory in public indoor spaces in Amsterdam. In Russia, which reported its largest daily increase in infections Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin sought refuge from the torrent of bad news by announcing that his government had approved a second vaccine.


Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany better captured the anxious mood when she said Tuesday, “I am watching with great concern the renewed increase in infection numbers in almost every part of Europe.” Merkel added, “We mustn’t throw away what we achieved via restrictions over the past months.”

To some extent, Europe’s setback is hardly a surprise. Public health experts have long warned that the virus could roar back when schools reopened and the days grew colder, driving people indoors, where the risk of transmission is far greater.


In several European countries, lockdowns were lifted abruptly, sowing complacency among people who felt they could return to their normal lives. And in the face of considerable political pressures, European leaders have been deeply reluctant to impose new, economically damaging lockdowns, often opting for the lightest possible measures.

For Germany and a handful of its neighbors, this second wave is particularly demoralizing because they had navigated the first wave relatively well. In late June, revelers in Prague celebrated the end of the outbreak with a dinner party stretching across the Charles Bridge. Spain and Italy, which were hit hard in March and April, threw open their doors to vacationers in July and August.

Now, with all these countries experiencing an alarming spread of the virus, the carefree days of summer are a distant memory.

On Wednesday, Merkel and Macron announced a raft of nationwide restrictions in their countries, ranging from the closing of bars and restaurants to the mandatory use of masks. The curfews in Paris and other French cities will last at least four weeks, Macron said.

“We haven’t lost control,” the French president said. “We are in a situation that is worrying that justifies being neither inactive nor panicked.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.