Before the arrival of safe and effective vaccines, dealing with COVID-19 in Europe was dominated by fear, uncertainty and blunt tools like lockdowns and travel bans to keep hospitals from being overrun.

Countries with blanket curbs such as Israel, Austria and Denmark — whose leaders self-identified as "first movers” — wore their strict social-distancing rules like a badge.

This fear is back as the region struggles with breakout infections moving from East to West. Austria is sliding into lockdown, with its middling vaccination rate making it look more like a laggard than a leader. Neighboring Germany, where public health played second fiddle to politics this fall, is refusing to rule out another lockdown. Denmark, despite a high vaccination rate, is seeing record cases after lifting restrictions in September. (Less complacent Southern Europe looks better-placed for now.)