Last month, as Europe finally lifted COVID-19 restrictions, the mood was jubilant across the continent.
Outdoor mask mandates and curfews were dropped, Americans were cleared to resume travel to tourist mainstays, and hopes rose that life would quickly return to normal.
The swift spread of the Delta variant, however, has upended all of that wishful thinking and is offering a warning to the U.S.
Fast becoming the dominant strain of COVID-19 across Europe, Delta is wreaking havoc in Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
Spain alone reported nearly 44,000 cases on Tuesday, doubling the number recorded one week ago.
Trying to blunt the effect of the strain that is expected by August to account for 70 to 90 percent of all cases in the EU, countries on the continent are clamping on new restrictions to counter a mutation that is at least twice as infectious at the variety that shuttered the world in 2020.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday that patrons must now present “health passes” showing full vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter bars, cafés, restaurants, theaters or museums.
Greece and Portugal have imposed similar requirements for those wishing to dine out or check into hotels.
In the Netherlands, nightclubs and discos, closed for a year, opened for mere days before Prime Minister Mark Rutte ordered them shut again.
“What we thought was possible in practice turned out to be wrong after all,” Rutte explained.
In Malta — the world’s only country where over 70 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated — the government has barred all entry to people who have not been vaccinated.
Curfews are being reinstated in Spain; in Barcelona, a hotbed of the Delta variant, nightclubs that opened two weeks ago are now shuttered again. Bars, restaurants and all nonessential businesses have been ordered to close by 12:30 a.m., and further restrictions are expected to soon follow.
As in the U.S., where Delta is also now the leading strain, COVID-19 case numbers in Europe that had been dropping in the past three months are back on the rise.
With just 44 percent of Europeans fully vaccinated, there remains a large swath of the population who are particularly vulnerable to infection.
“Right now if you’re under-vaccinated or unvaccinated, you’re at high risk of getting Delta when there’s so much transmission,” Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston told Yahoo News.
For tens of millions of Europeans who are awaiting their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the risks from Delta are very real.
Research indicates that a single shot reduces the likelihood of contracting the virus by only 30 percent or less.
“A single dose, especially with the AstraZeneca vaccine, provides relatively little protection,” Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Yahoo News.
The suggested protocol for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is widely used across Europe, is to wait three months between doses, opening a window of opportunity for the virus to continue spreading.
In response, many places are now speeding up the wait time. In Barcelona, for example, officials winnowed down the time frame between doses to just one month.—AP