Lockdown easing: How are other countries handling it?

Tess de la Mare, PA
·5-min read

The UK has laid out its road map for lifting all lockdown restrictions by the end of June, but many major economies are taking a different approach.

The British Government’s strategy is underpinned by the rapid rollout of its vaccine programme, with 17.7 million people having received their dose as of Sunday.

But other nations were more cautious in approving vaccines, and are wary of over-promising while the full risk posed by Covid-19 variants are still unknown.

– France

Our closest neighbour is a long way behind the UK’s vaccine total, with just 2.6 million having their first jab so far.

But despite stubbornly high infection rates, particularly around Nice, the French are not under lockdown.

Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine
France is a long way behind the UK’s vaccine total (PA)

Instead, there is a national curfew in force between 6pm and 6am, meaning hospitality businesses still have a chance to trade in the daytime.

Schools in some areas – including Bordeaux, Grenoble and Lyon – have reopened following the introduction of lateral flow testing for students, with more due to open in the coming weeks.

A localised lockdown is due to come into force this weekend in the Alpes-Maritimes region for a minimum of two weeks to try to bring the spike in cases under control.

The area around Nice currently has 7,000 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants, the highest rate in France.

– Germany

The current nationwide shutdown in Germany is due to last until March 7 – having been imposed in November – with a potential extension to be discussed by regional leaders on March 3.

But some restrictions are set to be softened slightly ahead of that date, with hairdressers allowed to reopen from March 1 subject to strict hygiene measures.

Germany
The empty square in front of the Old Opera in Frankfurt as lockdowns continue in Germany (Michael Probst/AP)

Schools and daycare centres are also starting to reopen, with individual states having control of how they approach lifting restrictions on education.

Employers must allow all those who can to work from home until at least March 15.

– Italy

Italy, one of the hardest-hit European nations – is currently relying on an approach similar to the UK’s previous tier system, with regions assigned as either white, yellow, orange or red.

Under the rules imposed by the newly formed government, there can be no visits between regions until at least March 27, with no inter-household visiting at all in red zones.

Italy Politics
Newly appointed Prime Minister Mario Draghi may increase lockdown measures if infections continue to rise (Mauro Scrobogna/LaPresse via AP)

But with increasing concern over new variants of the virus, there are growing calls from some quarters, notably senior health adviser Walter Ricciardi, for universal measures to be imposed.

Lockdown could get significantly tighter for Italians before it is lifted.

– Australia and New Zealand

It is a dramatically different picture in Australia and New Zealand, where swift and very strict border restrictions imposed at the very start of the pandemic have allowed the two nations to avoid protracted lockdowns.

But a leading Australian epidemiologist has said a system of hotel quarantine for new arrivals could be in place for a long time yet, as scientists gauge the threat posed by new variants.

Professor Catherine Bennett, of Deakin University in Victoria, told the All Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus on Tuesday: “We do have to have the big conversations about whether we let the virus into the country.

“If we think the vaccines have covered us enough to protect our elderly, our vulnerable, our health systems from the impact of serious illness and deaths, then it might be that we are in a position to relax the borders.”

Virus Outbreak New Zealand
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she will not reopen the country’s borders until everyone is protected from Covid-19 (Nick Perry/AP)

Prof Bennett said Australia might get to a point where the quarantine system focuses on screening for variants, thereby allowing those positive for less-worrying strains waved through border control.

Those positive for vaccine-resistant strains would potentially be detained in hotels for two weeks, she said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been firm that she will not consider reopening the country’s borders to foreign nationals until its citizens are “vaccinated and protected”.

Currently, it’s vaccination programme for its wider population is not scheduled to start until the second half of the year.

– Japan

Japan
Large parts of Japan are still under state of emergency measures (Koji Sasahara/AP)

Many parts of Japan are currently under a state of emergency, which imposes restrictions including reduced hours for the hospitality industry, an 8pm curfew, and encourages working from home.

The measures are due to stay in place until March 7.

Japan only began its mass vaccination programme last month, and may consider extending the lockdown in some regions to allow the programme to take effect.

Canada

Covid-19 restrictions in Canada are controlled by regional governments rather than national level, as it is such as varied picture across the country.

For example, Ontario was forced to impose a province-wide lockdown in January in response to rising cases, but has now returned most areas to a colour coded tier-style system.

Canada
Covid-19 testing for travellers entering Quebec from the United States (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Over on the west coast, British Columbians are told to only mix with their own household or their designated core bubble, including when visiting public spaces such bars and restaurants.

Canada’s vaccination programme has lagged behind other countries, with only 1.6 million receiving their first dose, and complaints from doctors that there is confusion over the rollout.

US

The US hit the grim milestone of 500,000 Covid-19 deaths on Monday.

President Joe Biden is pinning his hopes on the vaccine programme to get the pandemic under control rather than imposing nation-wide lockdown restrictions.

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks about the 500,000 Americans that have lost their lives to Covid-19 (Evan Vucci/AP)

Last month, he vowed that by the end of August, the US would have enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans, but noted the rollout would be “one of the most difficult operational challenges we’ve ever undertaken”.