- European countries, including Austria, Germany, and Portugal, are looking at imposing new COVID-19 restrictions as cases there rise.
- The average daily number of new cases is also increasing in the United States.
- However, experts say it’s unlikely the United States will institute any new national restrictions.
- They say that’s because most COVID-19 decisions are made at the state, county, and city levels.
- They add that COVID-19 fatigue is present in most areas of the country, so citizens will be reluctant to follow such mandates.
COVID-19 cases are on the rise in many parts of Europe and some countries are already imposing new lockdown measures, while others warn that new restrictions may be on the horizon.
Austria, one of the least vaccinated countries in Europe, entered a 10-day lockdown of all nonessential businesses on Monday and will make vaccinations compulsory starting Feb. 1.
Meanwhile, Germany is also looking at tighter restrictions, as is Portugal.
But even if that happens, most experts agree that full lockdowns aren’t likely to return to the United States.
“As compared to most European countries who have addressed lockdown/mitigation strategies at the national level, the United States has left these decisions to the discretion of state or local public health agencies,” Dr. Manoj Gandhi, a senior medical director of symptomatic testing solutions at Thermo Fisher Scientific, told Healthline.
“With the exception of Sweden, which did not implement any lockdowns, most European countries imposed strict national lockdowns, especially at the beginning of the pandemic.”
Instead, changes will likely come at the state, county, or city level.
“We are already seeing changes in restrictions across the country,” Dr. Ankush K. Bansal, FACP, a fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine, told Healthline. “Though the orders do vary, restrictions are surging in multiple spots as cases spike nationwide.”
But what form those restrictions take remains to be seen and likely won’t include strict measures.
“The political will to do so just isn’t there,” Nicholas B. Creel, PhD, a political scientist and assistant professor of business law at Georgia College and State University, told Healthline. “COVID fatigue is simply too deeply entrenched in the population at this point, such that the blowback politicians would face for trying to tighten things back up would be career-ending in scope.”
“Moreover, the federal government isn’t able to do much in the way of restrictions given our federalist system that largely empowers states to dictate policies that directly impact the health of their population,” Creel added. “So, even if the federal government wanted to take the hit for imposing unpopular restrictions, it couldn’t really do so in any meaningful way.”
Pandemic mitigation in the United States to date has taken a patchwork approach, with states at times taking different approaches to contain COVID-19.
Some imposed multiple lockdowns, mask mandates, and other restrictions. In contrast, other states actively banned some of those same mitigation strategies.
With lockdowns likely off the table, experts say the United States should instead focus on improving its vaccination rates and encouraging people to get vaccine boosters.
The Biden administration has proposed that workers at businesses with 100 or more employees get vaccinated — a move that covers 100 million U.S. adults. That mandate is now being debated in the courts.
“Keeping up with routine vaccinations is crucial to help prevent the spread of infectious disease, especially as we enter a particularly dangerous period with COVID-19 colliding with the cold and flu season,” Bansal said.
That’s in addition to keeping up proven mitigation strategies such as physical distancing, masking, and hygiene practices, especially as cases ramp again.
In the absence of lockdowns, Gandhi said a ramp-up in testing would also be a crucial part of the pandemic control equation.
“It’s important to have a comprehensive testing strategy that includes symptomatic and asymptomatic testing in the event there is a surge,” he said. “This should include not only identifying whether a person is infected or not, but also surveillance testing to identify the type of variant, in case there is an emerging variant that is capable of causing more disease, or worse, capable of evading vaccines.”