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How strict is the UK's lockdown compared with the rest of Europe?

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·6-min read
European countries have taken a varied approach to lockdown. (Our World in Data)
European countries have taken a varied approach to lockdown. (Our World in Data)

Lockdown rules in the UK have become even more stringent this week after Boris Johnson approved plans that mean UK nationals and residents returning from dozens of countries will have to quarantine in hotels for 10 days.

The tougher border controls have been announced in a bid to protect the UK against the spread of new coronavirus variants. Foreign nationals and non-UK residents from those destinations – which include South America, southern Africa and Portugal – are already banned from entering the UK. It is yet to be confirmed when the rules will come into force.

It comes at the end of a challenging week for the prime minister, who gave a sombre press conference on Tuesday in which he said he was “deeply sorry” after the UK death rate hit 100,000 coronavirus cases.

On Wednesday, Johnson delivered more unwelcome news, that schools will remain shut until 8 March at the earliest - adding that other social and economic restrictions would also remain in place until then.

The UK has some of the most stringent lockdowns in Europe, but several countries have imposed even tighter restrictions.

Watch: Johnson hints at lockdown easing as he faces pressure to reopen schools

According to analysis by Our World In Data, a website run in collaboration between researchers at the University of Oxford and the non-profit organisation Global Change Data Lab, Europe has among the strictest lockdown measures in place across the world.

To measure how tight lockdowns are, the data platform has looked at nine coronavirus response indicators.

These include school closures, workplace closures, cancellation of public events, restrictions on public gatherings, public transport closures, stay-at-home orders, public information campaigns, restrictions on internal movements and international travel controls.

Many European countries have among the strictest restrictions in the world. (Our World in Data)
Many European countries have among the strictest restrictions in the world. (Our World In Data)

Each indicator is given a value from 0 to 100 – with 100 being the strictest – and an average of all nine scores are taken to establish the country’s lockdown level.

If there are varying levels of restrictions within the country, the index is shown as the response level of the strictest regional lockdown.

As of January 25, the European countries with the strictest lockdown measures are:

  1. Germany: 85.19

  2. Ireland: 85.19

  3. Cyprus: 84.26

  4. Netherlands: 84.26

  5. Austria: 82.41

  6. UK: 81.48

  7. Greece: 80.56

What measures do these countries have in place?

Germany brought in a new national lockdown in December before extending it until at least 31 January .

The measures include the closure of all non-essential shops and schools, while people are also being urged to work from home and can only meet one other person outside their household.

Other restrictions include a ban on drinking alcohol in public places, and a rule that people who live in COVID “hotspots” are not allowed to travel more than 15km away from their home.

The UK has also seen all schools, hospitality venues and non-essential shops close and people ordered to stay at home, with restrictions in place in England officially until at least February 15. However, the prime minister’s announcement this week means these measures will stay in force for at least three weeks longer.

The government has also been at pains to stress that restrictions will be lifted gradually, meaning it could be well into the second half of the year before many of the rules are relaxed.

In Ireland, the government has extended its Level 5 lockdown until March 5, which means all schools, construction sites and non-essential businesses will stay closed until then. People are only allowed to meet one other person outside their household for exercise.

How the restrictions compare across Europe. (Our World in Data)
How the restrictions compare across Europe. (Our World In Data)

Ireland is also looking at new travel restrictions and those travelling from South Africa and Brazil, where COVID variants have been found, will face mandatory quarantine when entering the country.

In Austria all the same major restrictions are in place, but there is also a landing ban on flights from the UK, South Africa and Brazil. Hotels are closed, but ski lifts have been allowed to reopen for locals.

Greece also has a stringent lockdown with all these central measures as well as a 9pm to 5am curfew, although the country has recently announced that high schools will be able to reopen.

Cyprus has a similar lockdown to Greece, including the 9pm to 5am curfew.

Which European countries have freer measures?

Only a handful of large European countries currently have more relaxed measures in place.

Belarus has the least strict lockdown in Europe, with a score of 27.78 out of 100 compared with the UK’s at 81.48, according to Our World in Data analysis.

Hotels, restaurants and shops have all remained open and there are currently no travel restrictions in place. Belarus also has one of the lowest reported death rates on the continent.

General view near the Life Science center from the city of Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of england during the third national lockdown. (Photo by Nicolas Briquet / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The UK has one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. (SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Meanwhile, the Swiss government has only recently announced the closure of non-essential shops and ordered people to work from home where possible.

According to Our World In Data the country has just a lockdown strictness level of just 58.33.

Read more:
Mum of five children all suffering from long COVID describes ordeal: ‘Every day is survival’
Boris Johnson ‘deeply sorry’ as UK COVID death toll passes 100,000

Hospitality venues are closed but private gatherings of up to five people are allowed and ski lifts are also open.

Portugal is currently struggling with what is believed to be the worst current death rate in the world, yet the scale of its restrictions are measured only at 64.81.

Despite this, a state of emergency has been declared until 30 January, despite the country going to the polls last Sunday to vote in presidential elections amid warnings the health system is on the verge of collapse.

The current, seven-day rolling average death rate measured in fatalities per million, according to Our World in Data.
The current, seven-day rolling average death rate measured in fatalities per million, according to Our World In Data. (Our World In Data)

Schools in Portugal were closed last Friday as the country tries to get to grips with the pandemic.

People must stay at home and only supermarkets, pharmacies and dentists can remain fully open. Restaurants and cafes are permitted to operate for takeaways only, while hairdressers, gyms, museums and sports facilities are all closed to the public.

In Finland, restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels and attractions are all open, albeit with coronavirus contingency measures in place.

The country also allows residents from some countries to enter the country without testing or quarantine, including people from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and South Korea.

The country has a lockdown score of just 48.61 out of 100.

Watch: UK COVID deaths surpass 100,000