Europe overtakes U.S. as COVID-19 hotspot as infections surge

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Though deaths are a fraction of their rate earlier this year, the approach of European countries show how difficult it is to stamp out the virus entirely

Western Europe has surpassed the U.S. in new daily Covid-19 infections, re-emerging as a global hotspot after bringing the pandemic under control earlier in the summer.

The 27 countries in the European Union plus the U.K., Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein recorded 27,233 new cases on Wednesday, compared with 26,015 for the U.S. That follows several weeks of resurgent infections in Spain, France and other countries across the continent.

The comparison is based on data from the World Health Organization for the U.S. and Bloomberg calculations using numbers from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Europe’s move ahead of the U.S. is a major setback for a part of the world that seemed to have gotten a grip on the coronavirus after the pandemic spread from China to Italy and other countries across the region last winter. After health systems were pushed to the brink, strict lockdowns brought the outbreak under control.

Now Europe is experiencing a new spike in infections, many of them linked to vacationers who caught the virus and brought it home, as well as young people socializing. The upturn has alarmed policymakers just as students return to school and offices try to bring back employees who have been working from home.

So far, the new upturn in infections has not resulted in a surge in deaths, which are at a small fraction of the levels in March and April, when the pandemic tore through Europe’s nursing homes. Many of the new patients are younger and healthier, testing has expanded vastly—turning up asymptomatic infections that previously went undetected—and treatment has improved.

Europe recorded 252 deaths on Wednesday, according to the ECDC, compared with daily totals in the thousands during the spring. There were 169 deaths in the U.S. on Wednesday, though daily totals were running at more than 1,000 for much of last week and Thursday’s total was already at more than 430 as of mid-morning, according to the WHO.

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Although the U.S. has seen the pandemic’s spread moderate in recent weeks, it’s still reporting more new cases daily than most other individual countries, except India and Brazil. The U.S. also leads the world in deaths from the disease.

Comparisons between the U.S. and Europe are imperfect because the EU, with a population of about 450 million, is larger than the U.S., with about 330 million. Methods of testing and reporting also vary. According to some trackers, for example, the European daily count exceeded that of the U.S. on Labor Day, but that’s because some countries didn’t report cases over the weekend, effectively resulting in a three-day tally for Monday.

In the U.S., new infections have eased from daily levels of more than 70,000 in July. States such as Florida and California have seen big declines, though they’re still reporting thousands of new cases daily.

The number of tests conducted in the U.S. has been dropping from a peak in late July amid shortages and delays, and that may affect the number of cases reported. Testing has surged in Europe, with France, for example, targeting 1 million tests a week.

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