Remember the stories blaming America’s virus resurgence on states reopening too fast and praising other countries for crushing the virus with lockdowns? Well, flare-ups are now occurring in several countries that recently eased their lockdowns and travel restrictions. Victory declarations anywhere are premature.
New cases doubled in Spain over the weekend and are up six-fold in a month. Government officials have tied cases to migrant farm workers, tourists, family gatherings and young people partying. Catalonia, a tourist region known for vineyards and beaches, this weekend ordered the closure of night clubs and late-night bars. “Certain generations haven’t remained vigilant,” Spain Ministry of Health emergency director Fernando Simón said. Governors Doug Ducey of Arizona and Greg Abbott of Texas can sympathize.
The United Kingdom has imposed a quarantine on travelers returning from Spain, which could be a blow to its tourism industry and economy that are trying to revive. But as Spanish officials point out, flare-ups have occurred across Europe since countries reopened their borders and economies a month ago.
Germany recently reported an outbreak in Bavaria tied to migrant farm workers from Romania. Last week France’s Directorate General of Health warned “the circulation of the virus is increasing” after the country recorded more than 200 outbreaks. France is recording twice as many new cases per day as two weeks ago and last week mandated masks in public spaces.
Australia’s new daily cases have increased 11-fold in the last month. Cases have increased though Australia’s government locked down Melbourne. Civil disobedience is rife. Nearly 90% of the infected didn’t isolate between the time they started showing symptoms and were tested, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews recently noted. More than half of those infected didn’t isolate after being tested and when they got their results.
Japan and Hong Kong—both hailed as models of infection control—are also experiencing flare-ups tied to travelers and social gatherings. Japan’s daily new cases have increased six-fold in the last month. Hong Kong is reporting 136 new cases each day on average, up from two four weeks ago, and on Monday it banned dine-in restaurants and gatherings of more than two.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he doesn’t believe it’s necessary to shut down businesses since most cases so far are among young people and hospitals have ample capacity. This is the same approach most Republican states are taking, and that Arizona, Texas and Florida took until some hospitals became strained.Democrats blame the U.S. case surge on inadequate testing and contact tracing. But the U.S. has averaged two to three times more tests per capita than most European and Asian countries. Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas all were doing more tests per capita when they lifted their lockdowns than Germany, Spain, France and South Korea have averaged.
More testing can help isolate infected individuals and identify asymptomatic cases. Delays in returning testing results in the U.S. has made it harder for states to do contact tracing. But contact tracers in many places, including the U.K. and New York, have reported other logistical challenges including getting people to share personal information.
In any case, more testing and contact tracing won’t do much good if people don’t self-quarantine or can’t because they live with family in cramped housing. The latter is a problem in many U.S. hot spots. Mandating face masks could reduce spread in public settings but isn’t a panacea, especially if young people don’t comply and ignore social distancing.
Spanish night clubs required face masks, but pictures showed young people wearing them on their chins. Most people in U.S. hot spots were wearing face masks before governments mandated them. According to global data firm Dynata, face mask use in early July was around 80% in Houston, southeast Florida and New York City.
Amid the post-lockdown flare-ups, it’s worth revisiting Sweden, which has been widely criticized for never closing businesses and primary schools. Cases have been falling over the past month after a modest uptick in June due to more testing. Only 27 patients have died in the last week, fewer per capita than New York.
America’s liberals cite Sweden’s relatively high death rate (56 per 100,000 compared to 45.1 in France and 35.8 in the Netherlands). But two-thirds of deaths have been among those over age 80, and 97% never received intensive-care treatment. Blame Sweden’s socialized health system, which rationed treatment for the elderly even though ICUs were never overwhelmed.
The lesson is that the virus won’t disappear anytime soon. Governments may have to impose some business and social restrictions to protect hospitals and the vulnerable. But lockdowns aren’t a miracle cure, and their collateral damage is too severe to sustain.