Countries that had thousands of cases a day now have hundreds after chastened Europeans comply with mask-wearing, social-distancing rules.

By Margherita Stancati and Bojan PancevskiJuly 20, 2020 6:25 am ET

When Western European countries began phasing out their lockdowns this spring, a surge of coronavirus cases was widely expected to follow. Months on—even as Europeans mingle in bars, restaurants and crowded beaches—that still hasn’t happened.

As a surge in cases forces a number of U.S. states to reimpose restrictions, Europe’s reopening is for the most part going according to plan.

That is largely because of marked changes in social behavior across much of Europe, following widespread efforts by policy makers to drill the public to follow a simple, three-pronged approach: Keep a distance when possible, enhance hygiene and wear a mask when necessary. Older people, who are more vulnerable, are especially careful.

“People in Europe understood what they need to do. They take it seriously,” says Ilaria Capua, an Italian virologist at the University of Florida. “The crisis has been handled differently in different countries, but nobody in Europe is saying this is a nothing crisis.”

Crucially, experts say, European countries that slowed the incidence of Covid-19 down to a trickle have all continued to ban so-called superspreading events—mass gatherings such as soccer matches and concerts that are believed to have acted as incubators for the pandemic.

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