It has become a received wisdom in recent months that the US has failed where the EU had succeeded. On June 22, for example, CNN viewers were shown a graph of COVID cases in the US, which had seemed to flatten at around 25,000 cases a day, compared with those in the EU which had fallen away from an April peak to fewer than 5,000 cases a day. ‘Look at the EU,’ viewers were told. ‘That’s where we should be.’
Roll on four months, however, and it is looking a little different. While cases in the US fell away, then returned in what is beginning to look like a bit of a third wave, Europe has been consumed in a rapidly-growing second wave. On October 16, for the first time in months, the European Union registered more new cases — at 187 per million inhabitants — than did the US (166 per million).
As regards cumulative deaths, the US still looks bad — at 678 per million — but is exceeded by Spain (722 per million) and Belgium (897 per million). Others, such as Britain (642 per million), Italy (605 per million) and France (513 per million) are not far behind.
It is the latest twist in a saga which has changed constantly over the past few months. First, it seemed as if COVID-19 might be a disease which afflicted only China. Then it erupted in Europe, followed soon after by the US. Then, during the norther hemisphere summer, the epicenter moved to South America. Now, it is very much back in Europe. Countries which locked down for weeks, with huge impact on their economy, such as Britain, Italy, Spain and France, have little show for their efforts except for horrendous GDP figures for the second quarter. Britain had the worst figures, with a 20.4 percent shrinkage, followed by France (-13.8), Italy (-12.4) and Germany (-9.7). The US, with a 9.5 percent shrinkage, looks relatively good.
No European or North American country can be said to have come out of the COVID-19 crisis well. All have suffered far higher numbers of cases and deaths than have Far Eastern countries — something which is becoming increasingly difficult to explain through government actions alone, given the severity of lockdowns in Europe. It may turn out there is another factor, such as some degree of immunity from pre-existing exposure to other coronaviruses. But as we go into the election, it is no longer fair to pick out the US as the class dunce, nor to blame it on Donald Trump. The US is coming out of COVID no worse than any European country — and in terms of keeping its economy intact, it has performed a little better.