In Miami Beach, spring breakers are gyrating on top of cars and packing the streets with few masks in sight, even as police try to impose some measure of order. Meanwhile, in England, vacationers seeking their share of fun and sun may soon face hefty fines.

A new law imposing a penalty of 5,000 British pounds ($6,900) for those who attempt to travel abroad without a good reason is expected to pass later this week and could be in effect as soon as Monday, highlighting the glaring contrasts between Europe and the United States at a time when vaccination rates are rising but the coronavirus pandemic is nowhere near over.

While states such as Texas have cast aside mask mandates and fully reopened over the past month, European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, have announced strict new shutdowns. The result is that two parallel pandemics are unfolding: As Americans freely flock to restaurants, shopping malls and water parks, plazas in major European cities remain empty as stores are shuttered and gatherings remain off-limits.


Candles are lit during the National Day of Reflection at Blackburn Cathedral, on the anniversary of the first national lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, in Blackburn, England, Tuesday March 23, 2021. The U.K. has a lot to reflect on a year after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson first announced that the country would go into lockdown to slow the fast-spreading coronavirus. Peter Byrne/PA via AP

Last summer, European politicians and commentators watched aghast as many U.S. states continued to open up despite rising case numbers. At the time, Germany’s public broadcaster wondered whether the United States had “given up its fight against coronavirus.”

Among supporters of stricter virus curbs in the United States, Europe appeared to offer a role-model approach at the time. Nine months later, the roles are reversed.

“What happens in Germany is no longer of much interest in New York,” Germany’s public broadcaster observed last week, casting the city as a potential example for Europe. “Hope is mounting [in New York] that [the pandemic will] soon be over. From worst to first, thanks to a great deal of pragmatism.”


“In the U.S., Europe is turning from role model to chilling example,” the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper, a German daily, wrote last week, citing Europe’s “rising coronavirus case numbers, a chaotic crisis response, and a faltering vaccination campaign.”

“America is back,” a correspondent with German business newspaper Handelsblatt wrote this month.

“Of all places, America – whose bleak pandemic statistics we looked at pityingly for so long – is now showing Europe how to get a crisis of the century under control,” the journalist wrote. “The vaccination spurt in the U.S. is only possible through an effort coordinated by Washington, which is so sorely missed in Europe.”

Officials across Europe have warned that the spread of highly infectious new coronavirus variants is fueling a “third wave” that threatens to undermine the fragile progress of a vaccination campaign that has been besieged by setbacks. That means that grueling lockdown restrictions are far from being lifted – even if there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

“What we have is essentially a new pandemic,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday at a news conference. “Fundamentally, we face a new virus of the same kind but with very different characteristics. More deadly, more infectious, and infectious for longer.”

Because of the rise in infections, Germany’s shutdown will be extended through April 18, Merkel announced. Even stricter measures will take effect over the Easter holidays: Gatherings of more than five people from two households will be banned, and almost all stores will be closed for five days.


Italy, too, is preparing for a second Easter in lockdown. People in areas deemed “red zones” are already prohibited from leaving their homes unless they need to do so for health or work reasons, and those restrictions will apply to the entire country over the holiday weekend. In “orange zones,” some businesses have remained open, but travel outside one’s city or region is prohibited.

In France, lawmakers have acknowledged that fatigue is creeping in as the country enters its third shutdown. This time around, exercising outdoors is allowed, and businesses such as florists and chocolate shops are allowed to stay open even as other nonessential stores are ordered to close.

“We made some exceptions, such as hairdressers, for French people’s morale. We did it because there are professions like florists that make half their turnover during spring. We did it for the chocolatiers because it’s Easter,” Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL Radio on Sunday, according to France 24.

Like neighboring Germany and Italy, France has administered initial vaccine doses to less than 10% of its population. By contrast, close to a quarter of Americans have received an initial shot. But the United States is not close to reaching herd immunity – and even in the United Kingdom, which has partially vaccinated more than 41% of its population, restrictions remain much tighter.

Britain is recording some of its lowest daily case numbers in months following a devastating winter surge. But British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that the new law targeting vacationers is necessary as coronavirus cases surge across much of the European continent – driven largely by a more infectious variant that was first identified in Britain.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that Europe’s third wave would “wash up on our shores,” and that Britons should be “under no illusion” to the contrary.

Foreign travel outside Britain without a valid reason is already illegal under current restrictions but the penalty is new. According to the government, some valid reasons for traveling abroad include work, study, legal obligations, moving or selling property or visiting a dying relative or close friend.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: