Estimated reading time: 6 Minutes
20 May 2020
The Welsh Government has said that it will learn from international experiences when responding to coronavirus. Its framework for leading Wales out of the coronavirus pandemic says that “excellent situational awareness and analysis of the effects of international strategies on the lifting of population restrictions is needed”.
Caution is needed when carrying out direct comparisons as each country has a different demographic and healthcare systems, for example. Each country has also experienced differing levels of ‘lockdown’ so when we look at the easing of restrictions it’s important to remember that there are different starting points.
The Welsh Government’s framework mentions Germany, Singapore, South Korea and the US as examples of regional approaches to the measures and outlining their use of technology. Those countries will be examined in this article along with Italy and Spain who have experienced similar restrictions to the UK. The restrictions that were imposed in each country will be outlined before covering how the restrictions have been relaxed.
Checkpoints upon arrival
Towards the end of February 2020 the Federal Government in Germany announced that it would be introducing “disembarkation cards” which would need to be “filled out by everyone arriving by ship, air, bus or train so possible infection chains can be identified and individuals contacted”. Currently, only German residents and workers commuting between Germany and neighbouring countries are permitted entry.
In early February 2020 the South Korean Government began compiling data on those who entered the country from China. From 1 April 2020 it expanded these entry procedures to all travellers and required a “14 day self-quarantine or isolation in facilities”. The Government has introduced a number of entry requirements depending on whether passengers are symptomatic, where they have travelled from and how long they’re staying. For example, asymptomatic short-term visitors from Europe need to fill out a health questionnaire on a self-diagnosis app and travellers have to update the app during the 14 days of quarantine.
In January 2020 the Singapore Government introduced a Leave of Absence (LOA) for returning citizens who were told to stay at home and avoid social contact for 14 days. Under the LOA people are allowed to leave their homes but must return as soon as possible. Travellers from Hubei, China, were issued with a Quarantine Order upon arrival where they would either isolate at home, in a Government facility or in a hospital.
From 20 March 2020, overseas travellers returning to Singapore were issued with a Stay at Home Notice (SHN). People would then need to remain in their home for 14 days and not leave, even to buy food. The Singapore Government agencies could contact someone with a SHN via phone call, SMS or WhatsApp and they would need to respond within one hour. Failure to comply could result in fines up to $10,000 or imprisonment.
Stay at home
From 7 April 2020 the people of Singapore were encouraged to stay at home and only go out to buy essentials and to exercise. Under restrictions known as the “circuit breaker”, people were not permitted to hold social gatherings but could see immediate family members. Two weeks later tighter measures were introduced so people could only go out alone (rather than with other members of their household). The circuit breaker was extended until 1 June 2020, although some businesses were allowed to reopen throughout May.
The President of the United States set out coronavirus guidelines in March 2020. However it is up to the individual American states to declare public health emergencies and issue orders. The National Governors Association provided an overview of the actions taken by each state. The President’s guidance encourages people to “listen to and follow the directions of your state and local authorities”. There have been widespread protests across the US against the lockdown measures.
A number of states are working together to form a regional approach in response to coronavirus. For example, Michigan has joined with Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky to “work in close coordination…in the Midwest region”. Michigan’s Governor said that “phasing in sectors of our economy will be most effective when we work together as a region” but that doesn’t mean that “every state will take the same steps at the same time”.
Limiting the movement of people
Although the people of Germany weren’t explicitly told to stay at home, a number of measures to “limit social contact” were introduced on 16 March 2020. These included the closure of businesses except supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and post offices, among others. Restaurants remained open but the number of customers were limited and establishments could only open between 6am and 6pm. These measures remained in place until 3 May 2020.
3 May also saw the end of the Italian Government’s nationwide restrictions. The Government has taken a regional approach to coronavirus restrictions. Towards the end of February, the Municipalities of Lombardy and the Veneto Region were placed under quarantine. Two weeks later this was extended to other northern provinces, before applying to the whole nation on 9 March 2020. In Italy people were only allowed to leave home for work, to shop for necessities, health reasons or physical activities. However parks, public gardens and play areas were closed.
On 14 March 2020 a state of emergency was declared in Spain. During this period people’s activities were limited to getting food and medicine, caring for vulnerable people and travelling to work if necessary. The Spanish people were not allowed to go out to exercise. From 26 April 2020 some slight changes were made to allow children under 14 to go on supervised walks. From 2May people were allowed out to “practise individual physical activity and to take walks with those they live with”.
In South Korea “stronger social distancing rules” were introduced on 22 March. These remained in place until 19 April 2020. The Government of South Korea asked the public to “limit movement to commuting to and from work, while refraining from going out, holding gatherings and taking trips”.
Allowing people to go out more
While the majority of the social distancing rules remained in place in South Korea, from 20 April 2020, the Government eased some restrictions allowing activities in places of worship, sports and education facilities. On 6 May social distancing ended and “distancing in daily life” began. This meant people could “resume their daily routines” including “having meals in groups, attending gatherings and going out”. Sports venues, theatres and performance halls were reopened. However following an increase in COVID-19 infections in Seoul, a week later the Metropolitan Government there brought in stricter measures on public transport. These included banning passengers without face masks from boarding the subway cars.
On 6 May the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, said that the “contact restrictions would remain in place until 5 June” 2020. However, Merkel also said that “people will now be able to spend time in public space…with members of another household” but there is “still a very clear restriction on contact”.
A phased lifting of restrictions
In April 2020 the Italian Prime Minster set out the measures for “phase two” which began to be eased in from 4 May. Since then people have been allowed to travel for work, health, necessity or to visit relatives within their region. People are allowed to travel outside of their region for “work, health, urgency reasons and returning to one’s home”. On 18 May 2020 further restrictions were removed and people could leave their homes without needing to justify why. They can now meet with friends, go to the mountains and seaside, and shops as retail stores have reopened along with hairdressers, bars and restaurants.
The Council of Ministers in Spain approved a “Plan for the Transition towards a New Normality”. The plan includes “four phases and progression from one to another will depend on the capacity of the health system”. Phase 0 began on 4 May which saw restaurants able to provide takeaway services. The President of the Government said that the “process will not be uniform; it will be asymmetric and at different speeds, but coordinated”. Therefore, different regions of Spain will be in different phases. On 4 May four islands (Formentera, El Hierro, La Graciosa and La Gomera) moved straight to phase 1. This means small groups of people can meet and shops can open with strict safety measures in place.
The picture in the UK
How the restrictions are implemented and how they’re lifted in the UK is the decision of each of the four nations. There were a number of slight differences in the initial restrictions between the UK nations and more seem to be emerging as the UK and devolved governments move towards easing the lockdown.
Following a statutory of the regulations underpinning the coronavirus restrictions, the Welsh and Scottish Governments and Northern Ireland Executive decided to the keep the restrictions in place with minor changes and retain the stay at home message. The UK Government decided to move England into step one of its plan to ease restrictions. This meant that from 13 May 2020 people in England could spend more time outdoors; meet up with one other person from outside their household and travel unlimited distances to outdoor open spaces.
You can read a summary of the staying at home measures in Wales and a comparison of the four UK nations’ exit strategies in our blog posts.
Article by Lucy Morgan, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament
We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.
You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.