Is the brief respite over? In England, and other European nations hit hard by coronavirus, bars and cafes have reopened, and people have begun to fly abroad again for holidays. Guests have gathered for weddings. Babies have met their grandparents for the first time.

Though many remain wary, the government’s keenness to get back to business has encouraged a dangerous sense of complacency; some are increasingly casual in following the rules. Less than two weeks ago, Boris Johnson made the remarkable suggestion that there could be a “return to normality” by Christmas, with even distancing requirements dropped. Now the prime minister has warned there are signs of a second wave in Europe. Spain’s sharp rise in cases has already prompted England to reimpose quarantine for returning travellers; it may soon do so for Belgium, Luxembourg and Croatia. Niall Dickson, who heads the NHS Confederation – representing NHS leaders – has told MPs that managers are very worried about a second spike, perhaps before winter, citing exhausted staff and the need to rebuild other services.

Hong Kong, which has kept a relatively tight lid on infections until now, is on the verge of a large-scale community outbreak, according to its chief executive, which could lead to the collapse of the hospital system. Vietnam – which has so far recorded no deaths – reported its first case for three months at the weekend; now it is bracing for a surge after dozens more in multiple locations.

Others have seen no pause. The US reopening was vastly premature – as 4 million confirmed cases and a death toll of 150,000 attest. In India and Brazil, the virus is flourishing. Though some poorer countries have put wealthy nations to shame with exemplary initial responses, coronavirus will wreak its most devastating damage in communities with overcrowded conditions, poor sanitation and healthcare, malnutrition and no social safety net.

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The global picture underscores that we are not, in truth, facing a new wave, but a continuation or resurgence: the pandemic is “one big wave”, says World Health Organization spokesperson Margaret Harris. But she also made it clear that, while it might be accelerating, it is not an inexorable force sweeping all before it. It can and must be flattened.

Another worldwide lockdown is neither possible nor desirable, given its costs. But the alternative is not resignation, abandoning the most vulnerable to take their chances. It is for governments to redouble efforts. They must work together, and encourage their citizens to pull together.

One hope is that governments and communities are better prepared for a resurgence thanks to the test and trace strategies they have developed, and increased public awareness of how to reduce the risk of infection. Another is that they are learning from what they and others got wrong the first time round. The UK’s failure to protect care homes saw them “thrown to the wolves”, in the words of the public accounts committee. In Hong Kong, the president of the medical association has criticised the high level of exemptions from quarantine.

But if Mr Johnson is as concerned as he says, it is baffling that the government wants to urge people who can work remotely back into workplaces, and is still encouraging people to book holidays. Two epidemiologists have suggested the UK could eliminate coronavirus if it stops overseas tourism. The threat of a resurgence is all the more reason for England and Wales to seriously consider the Independent Sage group’s “Zero Covid” approach, already adopted by Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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With no vaccine yet available, a sensible government would pause the relaxation of restrictions while it takes stock, and discourage people from holidaying abroad as cases grow. It would clarify guidelines to make them more understandable, and throw itself into effective social media campaigns to remind people of the difference that mask wearing, proper distancing and handwashing make. Meanwhile, it would ensure that it has adequate supplies of protective gear, medical equipment and the necessary medicines. Individuals, too, must do their part by following official advice. England should have been better prepared for coronavirus to hit in spring. It has no excuses this time.



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