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European Coronavirus Infections Now Exceed U.S. Cases

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For months, Americans have looked with envy at Europe's performance against the pandemic. In many European countries, cases were much lower - the rate of cases anyway - than the United States. Things have not much improved in the U.S., but now Europe overall is worse, reporting almost twice as many new daily coronavirus cases as the United States. And governments are trying to respond. Reporter Esme Nicholson is covering this from Berlin. Hey there.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: People were so impressed with Europe for a while, which even seemed to be reopening more normally than the United States was able to. What changed?

NICHOLSON: Well, firstly, Steve, the weather - as it gets colder, more and more people are meeting indoors. Flu season is also upon us, and schools and universities are back inside classrooms. Another reason is what the Germans call the prevention paradox. Countries that previously did well to prevent the virus from spreading are now struggling to do so because people have become complacent about it or have a false sense of security. So they're no longer adhering to safety measures.

INSKEEP: Well, Germany, where you are, is one of the countries that did do well. So how does it look now?

NICHOLSON: Well, as you say, it has fared well, and it has been seen as a bit of a pandemic role model. But just this morning, the CDC equivalent, the Robert Koch Institute, reported its highest number of new infections since the start of the pandemic. And in more personal news, I just heard that my child's day care teacher has tested positive, so now we're waiting to hear from contact tracers about testing. So the situation is changing, and the chancellor, Angela Merkel, is certainly worried. In fact, yesterday, she summoned Germany's 16 state governors to Berlin to meet in person for the first time since March. And it's worth mentioning that Merkel can't actually make any unilateral decisions about measures because the power lies with the states.

INSKEEP: Is Merkel getting her country's state governors to agree on what to do?

NICHOLSON: Yes, although I think the better answer there is we'll see. She has managed to get them to agree on a slate of fairly low-key measures, and she's also warned that more will come if necessary. What is clear, though, is that she and other politicians really want to avoid another lockdown.

INSKEEP: How is another big country, France, approaching this where I know cases are already also on the rise?

NICHOLSON: Well, the French approach is much tougher than Germany's, mainly because the infection rate is four times as high, but also because President Macron has more powers than Merkel in what is a much more centralized country. So from Saturday, there's going to be a nighttime curfew in Paris and in eight other cities for at least the next month, meaning that if you refuse to stay home after 9 p.m., you will face fines. But last night's announcement wasn't all about legal measures. Macron also urged his fellow citizens to be cooperative, and his message was conveyed in an interview rather than as an address, which some believe was an attempt to appeal to people in a less top-down way.

INSKEEP: And what is the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson, doing as cases escalate there?

NICHOLSON: Well, first of all, the U.K. system is different again. And although it's a very centralized country like France, health care is actually managed separately by ministers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So with the U.K. registering around 20,000 cases a day, these leaders are under pressure to act. And yesterday, Northern Ireland's first minister, Arlene Foster, announced that a nationwide lockdown there will come into effect from tomorrow for the next four weeks. Boris Johnson is currently under fire for refusing to do any kind of a lockdown because of what he says it will do to the economy. But the BBC is reporting that Johnson is actually about to impose restrictions on London, which effectively ban households from mixing and going to pubs and bars.

INSKEEP: Esme, thank you very much.

NICHOLSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.