While the Covid-19 pandemic has affected life around the world, every country – and in some places, province or state – has dealt with it differently.
As the rate of infections worldwide began to rise in February, some countries went into lockdown early, imposing travel restrictions and isolating people who had entered their countries recently. Others continued with business as normal until the end of March, nearly two whole months later.
For the most part, Covid-19 lockdown measures have been considered necessary not just to stop the spread of the disease, but in order to give healthcare systems the opportunity to ramp up capacity. That included testing for Covid-19, as well as ICU beds, hospitals and medical personnel. Now that some countries seem to have reached the peak of cases, they’re slowly re-opening sectors of society, as a sort of test run to see what elements of society can start functioning as normal again.
Not everywhere is lifting lockdown measures
In countries such as the UK, lockdown measures were extended until 7 May recently, and ministers have not ruled out extending it further. France has recently extended lockdown measures to the 11 May as well. In the US and in Canada, lockdown measures have been imposed statewide, rather than federally. Recently, President Trump announced a three phase plan to get states back to normal life again, although it should be noted that he can’t force state governors to do so. This would include returning to work in phases, even though vulnerable people should remain ‘shielded’, and minimising time spent in crowded environments.
In Singapore, it is still necessary to wear a mask outside of your home, although the country is currently in a state of partial lockdown. There are signs of a second wave of infection. In Japan, as well as in Russia, measures are getting stricter.
But in some other countries, particularly those that had confirmed cases earlier, or locked down before confirmed deaths, lockdown measures are gradually being relaxed.
Lockdown measures, generally, have been extended until the end of April, but workers in sectors such as construction and manufacturing have been allowed to go back to work. This may be because figures from the beginning of April suggest that 900,000 workers have lost their jobs and that people in sectors such as construction were the hardest hit.
Officials in Spain are also coming up with methods of distributing face masks on public transport, such as enlisting the help of police forces. However, in Spain, one of the lockdown measures has been the ban on children being allowed out of their houses, something which has been different from many other countries.
The Spanish health minister, Salvador Illa, argued that this was necessary as children are a vector of transmission, and multigenerational families and households are common.
In the country, people are saying that this is having a severe effect on the mental health and development of the children themselves, although there is an indication that this law may be lifted towards the end of April.
Essential construction work will be able to restart, and the transport of goods between states in India will be allowed again too, from the end of April. This is because farming employs over half of the Indian workforce, and has been one of the hardest hit industries after coronavirus lockdown measures were imposed – the hope is that by allowing farmers to go back to work, food shortages can be staved off and the economy can start to recover gradually.
One state, Kerala, locked down far before other states – it has a robust healthcare system and has led the way in the country in terms of handling the spread of Covid-19.
Bookshops, laundries, shops selling stationery – workers in any of these businesses have been allowed to open up for business again. They will still have to follow strict social distancing protocols, and only places which have adequate provisions of supplies such as masks and gloves have been given the green light.
They will also have to be sanitised twice a day. However, a minister said that the bookshops reopening was partially because books could be considered an “essential good” for people who will be stuck at home.
Other lockdown measures will remain in place – so Italians must carry a form detailing why they’ve left the house – and some regions will remain shut until May.
Switzerland has rolled out a three-stage plan to gradually phase back into regular life, with the caveat that lockdown can be imposed again if necessary. From the end of April, services like hairdressers and physiotherapists will be able to open up again. Bars, restaurants and other places where people gather en masse will only be able to open again from June, while schools may reopen again in the middle of May.
Germany and Belgium
Some small businesses will start to reopen, and masks are strongly recommended on public transport although they’re not mandatory.
In Germany, shops of up to 800 square meters will be able to reopen, and bookshops and car dealers of any size can too. However, many small shop owners have publicly voiced concerns over what they can and can't do, as well as whether they can go back to business as normal.
Hairdressers will be able to re-open with strict social distancing measures, and schools and universities with a detailed hygiene plan in place can re-open on May 4. Belgium has extended lockdown measures until the beginning of May. Other rules remain in place, and large gatherings are still banned until the end of August.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been praised for New Zealand’s lockdown measures, and will start to relax restrictions from the end of April.
Children will be allowed to go back to school – although it is not mandatory – and restaurants and drive-through businesses will be able to reopen for takeaway business only. Large gatherings will still be banned.
One of the reasons that New Zealand has potentially been able to re-open much more quickly than other countries is partially due to Ardern’s imposition of lockdown measures back in February, before other countries were even considering making social distancing a part of their lexicon.
Denmark and Norway
In Denmark, some schools are opening again from next week, for children in the years 1-5. Some parents have expressed anxieties about their children re-entering back into schools, but Denmark was one of the first places to lock down – there were 299 Covid-19 related deaths, but the number of hospitalisations had fallen over two weeks.
After it was announced that hairdressing salons would be reopened, the country’s most popular website for booking salon appointments crashed. Denmark’s tightest lockdown measures still allowed gatherings of up to ten people, but Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was quick to impose lockdown measures towards the beginning of March.
Restaurants, cafes, bars and other crowded establishments are still closed until May 10 at least, and there are incredibly detailed health and safety guidelines which have been imposed. Centre-right parties in Denmark have been exerting pressure on the government to get back to business as normal, but Frederiksen made it clear that medical experts were the crucial voices on the strategy to exit the lockdown.
Early on, Frederiksen and her government emphasised that the situation was unprecedented, and that while the government would make mistakes, they would be doing all that they could.
In Norway some schools will be reopened, a ban on people going to their second homes or holiday homes will also be lifted towards the end of April. Hairdressers and other small businesses are also allowed to start operating again, but they have to follow strict social distancing measures.
Iran was badly affected by early cases of Covid-19, and has since managed to get the situation under control. Restrictions on trips between provinces of Iran will end next week, and businesses which were categorised as “lower risk” will be able to reopen from next week.
The Czech Republic has already lifted some lockdown measures, partially because the country had locked down earlier than many others.
There was also a massive public health drive from the governments in the Czech Republic and Slovakia to convince citizens to wear face masks. Farmers markets, car dealerships and other small shops will be able to re-open again from next Monday, as long as social distancing measures are maintained. This is stage one of a five stage plan which will be completed by June, where all businesses including restaurants and bars will be able to re-open.
Austria has started to lift restrictions in the past week – it has already lifted restrictions on DIY and hardware stores, as well as small shops, and all shops will be able to re-open again from the middle of May.
The government has emphasised the importance of social distancing, and has cautioned that these measures, alongside personal protective equipment such as face masks, is how it intends to beat Covid-19. By the end of May, restaurants will be able to open up again – as normal – if there is not a second wave of infections.
The Austrian government has also said that if these measures are not followed, restrictions on movement and shops will come back into effect. Currently, Czech citizens can travel out of the country and return, so long as they go into quarantine for two weeks after they return.
In China, Wuhan is emerging out of lockdown after three months of intense measures.
While shopping malls, restaurants and bars are starting to open up again, people haven’t started to frequent them in the same numbers as before, and people within the country are worried about a second wave of infections.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Yang Chengjun, a worker who was leaving Wuhan by train, said that the “number of asymptomatic patients has been slowly going up.”
Sweden’s approach to coronavirus lockdown differs significantly from the majority of other countries, as the country never fully went into a lockdown. Anders Tegnell, who is widely considered to be the mastermind behind Sweden’s lax coronavirus measures, has indicated that the country may be over its peak.
But the main reason that Sweden was able to take a different approach than other countries was in part due to its strong, universal health care system – tents which had been set up as temporary healthcare were largely unused, and it did not report a dearth in medical equipment as many other countries did. In a news segment, Johan Soberg of the CATO Institute explained that the Swedish approach was to hope that a small number of cases and deaths earlier on would avoid a deadly second or third wave of infections, as has been found to occur elsewhere.