COVID-19 surge in Europe as it heads into winter could bode ill for U.S.

Winter is coming, and Europe is once again a coronavirus epicenter.

Germany’s beloved Christmas markets are in peril, and its intensive-care beds are filling up. Austria is telling the unvaccinated to stay out of restaurants and cafes. The Netherlands is headed for a partial lockdown, the first in western Europe since summertime.

In eastern Europe, where vaccination rates are generally low, the situation is far more dire, with surging daily fatality rates in states such as Romania and Bulgaria, which are European Union members. The World Health Organization, which includes Russia in its European region, on Wednesday reported a 10% rise in coronavirus deaths in Europe over the previous week, bucking a trend of declines in most other regions.

Across the continent, European governments are uneasily eyeing a likely backlash if unpopular measures such as strict shutdowns again become widespread, even while weighing possibly dire public-health consequences if safety measures are flouted.

Colder temperatures are driving people indoors, and holiday gatherings add to risks caused by crowded conditions, public health experts warn. The disheartening sense of COVID-19 déjà vu is acute in countries like Germany, where vaccination rates are the lowest in western Europe and new infections are breaking records.

“It would be advisable to cancel all large events,” Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Friday, cautioning that big indoor festivities could “end up being super-spreader events.”

In Europe, as in the United States, it is largely the unvaccinated who are becoming seriously ill and dying. But breakthrough infections — vaccinated people contracting the disease — and the specter of waning immunity are handing fresh ammunition to vaccine resisters, galvanizing political tensions that populist movements across the continent have sought for months to exploit.

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