Communities Health and Care Services

Coronavirus: comparing UK exit strategies

The lockdown is devolved so how it’s lifted is the decision of each UK nation. There were a number of slight differences in the initial restrictions across the whole UK and more are emerging as these are being relaxed. This article will outline and compare the frameworks published by the four governments on their own approaches to easing the restrictions.

Estimated reading time: 7 Minutes

This article was updated on 2 June 2020

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

The lockdown is devolved so how it’s lifted is the decision of each UK nation. There were a number of slight differences in the initial restrictions across the whole UK and more are emerging as these are being relaxed. This article will outline and compare the frameworks published by the four governments on their own approaches to easing the restrictions.

Wales’s framework for recovery

On 24 April 2020 the Welsh Government published its framework based on three ‘pillars’ which, the First Minister for Wales says, will “lead Wales out of this crisis”.

The first pillar includes factors to consider when discussing lifting the restrictions. These focus heavily on healthcare such as ensuring personal protective equipment (PPE) for “all frontline workers who need it”. Looking at “international evidence of the impact of lifting the restrictions on the spread of the virus” is also highlighted as a factor.

The second pillar outlines seven key principles with questions that the Welsh Government will ask when assessing options to relax some measures, including:

  • Is the measure at the low end of risk of further infection?
    • Is the scale of the action communicable in such a way as to avoid confusion about its extent and its limits?
  • Is it capable of being rapidly reversed if it has unintended consequences?
    • Are the arrangements sufficient to monitor the impact of the action?

The third pillar highlights the need for the relaxation of measures to be supported by a public health response. Enhancing surveillance “to monitor transmission in communities” is one part of the public health response that will be led by Public Health Wales. The frameworks says that surveillance will be supported by a “significantly scaled” and “digitally supported” contact tracing across Wales.

A traffic light guide

On 15 May 2020 the Welsh Government published a traffic light guide to move out of lockdown. It includes nine areas with four steps moving from the lockdown, to red, orange and green. The areas covered include seeing family and friends; getting around; and exercise, playing sport and games.

The traffic light guide does not include dates. The document says that these steps “represent broad phases” and that Wales “will not move wholescale from one phase to the next”. It is possible, therefore, to be in the red phase in one area and green in another.

The Welsh Government say that it has “established a series of ‘circuit breakers’ that will trigger the re-imposition of measures”. The First Minister said that these ‘circuit breakers’ include “the number of people being admitted to hospital for coronavirus reasons” and “the number of people in hospital who then need to go into an intensive care bed”.

Following the third review of the regulations, on 29 May the First Minister announced that from 1 June 2020 “members of two separate households [can] meet outdoors at any one time. This will include meeting in private outdoor spaces such as gardens”. The ‘stay at home’ message changed to ‘stay local’ and people should use “five miles as a guide”. Our blog post outlines the current restrictions in place in Wales.

Scotland’s framework for decision making

The Scottish Government published its approach and principles for making decisions on easing restrictions on 23 April 2020.

There are several similarities between Scotland and Wales’ frameworks, such as the need for public health measures alongside the easing of restrictions. This includes enhanced surveillance “to understand where the virus is and how prevalent it is”. Scotland’s framework also notes that contact tracing needs “digital tools” but also that this would “require active support from the public”.

Unlike Wales’ approach, Scotland’s framework says that “it’s too early to tell from international comparisons what the safest and most effective approach might be”. It also says that the Scottish Government will assess the “merits of tailoring options to…specific geographies and sectors, or parts of the rural economy, or those able to work outdoors”. This does not feature in the Welsh Government’s framework.

Route map

On 21 May 2020 the Scottish Government published its route map to easing the restrictions and setting out “a phased approach to the future”. Similar to Wales, following the lockdown there are four phases which include nine areas such as seeing family and friends; getting around; and shopping, eating and drinking out.

Along with Wales and Northern Ireland, the Scottish Government’s phases do not include dates. The route map also says that “it may be that not everything currently listed in a single phase will happen at the same time”.

Following a statutory review of the restrictions on 28 May 2020, the First Minister for Scotland announced a number of changes that would be in place from the following day, 1 and 3  June. This included being able to meet one other household at a time but with a maximum of 8 people and that people should “not travel further than around 5 miles”.

England’s recovery strategy

On 11 May 2020, the UK Government published its plan to rebuild for a “world with COVID-19”. Even though it’s a UK Government plan, the vast majority of actions in this document apply to England only as they fall within  devolved policy areas.

The plan includes 14 “supporting programmes” to assist with the delivery of the plan. Similar to Wales and Scotland’s frameworks, health measures need to be in place including the assurance that “all staff are protected by the appropriate PPE”. The importance of testing and contact tracing are highlighted with the use of “app-based contact tracing through the new NHS COVID-19 app”. The plan says this app would “alert users when they have been in close contact with someone identified as having been infected”. The National Cyber Security Centre has provided more information about the app.

As Scotland’s framework says it would consider different restrictions within the country, so too does England’s. The plan says that the UK Government may “adjust restrictions in some regions before others” as “a greater risk in Cornwall should not lead to disproportionate restrictions in Newcastle if the risk is lower”.

Step one

After completing a statutory review of the restrictions in England, on 10 May 2020 the Prime Minister said that while “this is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week” he would be “taking the first careful steps to modify our measures”. On 13 May 2020 step one of the UK Government’s plan was implemented in England. This included the following changes:

  • All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open and one of the sectors allowed to be open (such as food production, construction, manufacturing, scientific research);
  • People can spend time outdoors to meet up with one person from outside their household and can exercise with this one person; and
  • People may drive to outdoor open spaces regardless of the distance.

On 28 May 2020, the Prime Minister announced a further easing of the restrictions in a number of areas including that from 1 June “up to 6 people [can] meet outside”.

Northern Ireland’s approach to decision making

On 12 May 2020 the Northern Ireland Executive published the approach it’ll adopt when reviewing the coronavirus restrictions.

The Executive’s principles when considering changes to the restrictions will also consider the capacity of the healthcare system to ensure it’s not “overwhelmed by a second or subsequent wave of the pandemic”. The impacts on the economy and society are also key principles. The document also says that where apps can assist they will be used but “they will have a limited value unless used widely across society”.

Pathway to recovery

The Executive’s approach includes a ‘pathway to recovery’ which outlines six sections with five steps to move on from the current position. It doesn’t include dates as the Executive “will take a risk-based rather than calendar-based approach at all stages”. This is different from the UK Government’s plan for England which has dated the next steps.

The document also says that “the steps do not necessarily apply at the same time in different” sections. Therefore, Northern Ireland could be in step 1 in one section and step 3 in another, as with Wales’ traffic light system.

On 18 May 2020 the Northern Ireland Executive announced a number of changes to the restrictions including that “outdoor gatherings of up to 6 people not from the same household will be allowed”.

Republic of Ireland’s roadmap

Northern Ireland is in a unique position being part of the UK and sharing a land border with the Republic of Ireland. Its approach document says that it is “working closely both on a four nations basis within the UK and on a North/South basis with the Irish Government”.

There is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Department of Health in Ireland and its counterpart in Northern Ireland. The document says that as the pandemic doesn’t recognise borders, “there is a compelling case for strong co-operation including information sharing and, where appropriate, a common approach to action in both jurisdictions”.

The Republic of Ireland has experienced a lockdown similar to the UK, with people being told to stay at home and only go out for limited reasons. On 1 May 2020 the Irish Government published its roadmap for reopening society and business. It includes five phases each with dates for when the changes are set to come into effect.

The first phase began on 18 May 2020 when, among other things, people could “meet with friends or family within 5 kilometres in groups of no more than 4”.

A four nations approach?

All four governments have voiced their desire for a four nations approach. The Welsh Government has said that its preference “would be that all four nations retain a common approach”.

However, all governments have also said that they will diverge if necessary. The First Minister for Wales said that “where there are things that we need to do differently to meet Welsh circumstances, then of course we will do that”. The First Minister for Wales has voiced his concern that the different messaging between England and Wales will cause confusion.

Working together and having a co-ordinated approach doesn’t mean the same actions have to be taken across the UK. There are international examples where other countries are taking a regional approach. For example, the Spanish President has said that the lifting of restrictions will be performed “asymmetrically, by region, since the pandemic has not affected all regions equally”. You can read a comparison of international coronavirus restrictions in our blog post.


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.

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