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Coronavirus: What do the lockdowns mean in Europe?

April 15, 2020

Countries across Europe have significantly curbed public life in order to halt the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. DW breaks down what life in lockdown means and how long the measures are expected to last.

Members of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) patrol during partial lockdown as part of a 15-day state of emergency to combat the coronavirus disease outbreak in Madrid
Image: Reuters/J. Medina


Restrictions in place until May 3

Italy issued a nationwide lockdown on March 9, ordering its 60 million residents to stay at home. Schools, universities and all non-essential businesses were closed — with supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and post offices allowed to remain open. Travel within Italy was banned except for health reasons or urgent matters.

People in Italy are only permitted to leave the house under certain circumstances, including: solitary exercise close to home, going grocery shopping or going to the doctor. They must print out a certificate at home declaring their reason for leaving the house, which will be checked by police. Those who violate the lockdown face fines between €400 to €3,000 ($430 to $3,227) or up to three months in jail.

In the final days of March, police cracked down on looting as citizens who claim they have not received government financial aid became desperate for food and necessities.

The original deadline of April 3 was scrapped on March 27. The next deadline of April 13 was extended further until May 3.

Starting on April 14, the Italian government started relaxing restrictions, allowing bookshops, clothing stores for children and babies and other small shops to reopen. The forestry industry was allowed to resume production.


Restrictions in place until April 26

The Spanish government declared a state of emergency on March 14, issuing a general confinement order for more than 46 million people.

Non-essential shops and schools have been ordered to shut, as well as hotels and tourist accommodation. Spain also closed its external borders with its European neighbors. People are limited to only leaving their homes to go to the pharmacy and grocery shopping. Outdoor exercise is also banned, except for taking a dog on a walk. Hundreds of thousands of police and military personnel are enforcing the lockdown.

Following their biggest one-day increase in deaths on March 28, Spain announced a toughening of the measures. All non-essential workers were told to stay home completely for two weeks until April 11. Starting on April 13, workers in construction and manufacturing were allowed to return to work, although other restrictions were extended until April 26.


Restrictions in place until May 11

The French government announced a strict nationwide lockdown on March 17, banning all public gatherings and telling residents to stay inside except for grocery shopping and other essential tasks.

Along with closing all non-essential shops, open-air markets have been ordered to shut. People in France are also required to fill out a form stating their reason for leaving the house.

Outdoor exercise is only permitted once a day and must be done alone and not exceed one hour. Families are allowed to take walks, but must remain within 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) of their homes. Walking the dog is allowed, although owners must now write down what time they left to make sure it's within the hour-limit.

Those breaching lockdown rules could face fines between €135 to €3,700 as well as up to six months in prison for multiple violations.

The lockdown was extended from April 1 to April 15 in March as cases continued to surge. The measures were extended once more on April 13 to May 11.


Restrictions in place until April 19

Unlike other European countries, Germany has so far stopped short of ordering its over 80 million population to remain at home — instead opting for strict social distancing measures which were issued on March 22.

Public gatherings of more than two people are banned, except for families and those who live together. Restaurants have been told to close unless they offer food delivery and pick-up. Hair salons and tattoo parlors have joined the list of non-essential shops that have been told to shut. Exercising alone outside is still allowed, albeit with at least a 1.5-meter distance between others.

The states of Bavaria and Saarland have, however, have put their residents on lockdown, telling them to stay at home. Schools across the country have been told to shut until the end of the Easter holiday, which ends between April 13 – April 24.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on April 1 that the country's social distancing measures will be extended at least until April 19. Merkel will meet with the leaders of Germany's 16 states on April 15 to discuss possibly easing restrictions and potentially reopening schools.

Read more: Coronavirus and the EU: The nation versus the union?

Graphic showing when select countries implemented lockdowns and other restrictions on public life


Restrictions in place until April 16, but will be reviewed

The British government ordered a lockdown on March 23, limiting people to trips outside the home solely for grocery shopping, medical needs and traveling to work if working from home is not an option.

Social gatherings and meeting up in crowds have been banned. One form of solitary exercise is permitted such as running or riding a bicycle. Police will be enforcing the lockdown measures, but people are not required to bring papers with them when they go outside to justify their reason for leaving the house.

After Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 and went into quarantine, he sent a letter to all British households warning "We will not hesitate to go further if that is what the scientific and medical advice tells us we must do." He was treated in hospital and released on April 12.


Less strict restrictions in place until mid-May

Austria banned its nearly 9 million citizens on March 16 from entering public spaces except in certain situations, such as pharmacy, grocery store and ATM trips. All sports fields have been shut, but people are still permitted to go on runs or take walks outside with the people who also live in their apartment or house.

Groups of more than five people are not permitted in public. Restaurants, bars and cafes have been ordered shut. Only supermarkets and food delivery services are available for those looking for food or groceries. Those who do not comply face fines of up to €3,600.

The borders with neighboring Italy and Switzerland have been shut, with train and air travel significantly cut back.

On April 14, Austria began relaxing its lockdown measures. Non-essential stores under 400 square meters (4,300 square feet) will be allowed to open their doors along with hardware stores and garden centers. On May 1 shops, shopping malls and hairdressers will follow suit. People are required to wear face masks in stores and on public transportation.

However, restaurants and hotels will have to wait until mid-May to reopen at the earliest and no public events can be held until at least late June.

The Netherlands

Restriction in place until April 28

The Netherlands initially ordered a lockdown to last until April 6. On March 31, Prime Minister Mark Rutte extended what he called the "intelligent lockdown" to April 28.

This means bars, restaurants, museums, schools and universities will remain closed for three weeks longer than they had planned.

Public gatherings and large-scale events are banned in the Netherlands until June 1.


Restrictions in place until at least April 19, possible extension to May 3

Belgium has been in lockdown since March 18. The country's 11.4 million residents have been ordered to stay at home and avoid outside contact as much as possible. People are only allowed to leave home to visit the doctor, buy food or assist others in need. Police are patrolling the streets. Those ignoring restrictions and gathering in public spaces such as parks will be fined. Walks and brief sessions of exercise outside are allowed, however.

Foreign travel has been banned until at least April 19.


Restrictions in place until April 17

Portugal has declared a state of emergency, the first time it has been called since the country transitioned to democracy in 1976. The decree grants the government the power to deploy the army for security purposes, to intervene in the economy and set prices of basic goods, and to recruit private or public employees in the production of strategic goods. 

Mandatory quarantine is required for infected people, while high-risk citizens are instructed to stay at home and only venture outside under ''exceptional circumstances.'' 

Workers are expected to work from home, if at all possible. Banks, pharmacies and food stores will remain open, while restaurants have been encouraged to close and switch to delivery or take away. 

The country's borders with Spain are mostly closed, with nine crossings open for the flow of goods and cross-country work commuters. 

Entertainment activities or any activity that requires large groups of people have been called off or prohibited, including Portugal's football league.

The government has expressed concerns about people not adhering to social distancing regulations, leading to speculation about restrictions being tightened or restricted.


No lockdown in place

The Scandinavian country has not followed the example of many other European countries and refused to implement a full lockdown, despite similar figures at the start of the outbreak.

"We who are adults need to be exactly that: adults. Not spread panic or rumors," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said early on in the pandemic. All Sweden's neighbors — Denmark, Norway and Finland — have implemented strict lockdowns on public life.

Some social distancing measures have been implemented and many people are choosing to cut down on travel or work from home.

Gatherings of more than 50 people were banned on March 29 and visits to nursing homes on March 31.

Experts have expressed concern that Sweden's refusal to implement a lockdown will lead to increased deaths.


State of emergency open-ended, curfew measures until further notice

On March 11, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared a national emergency for the country. The state of emergency was extended indefinitely on March 30 when lawmakers passed a bill granting the government the power to do so.

Under the new law, Orban has the right to rule by decree for as long as the state of emergency is in effect — sparking alarm from rights groups.

The new law also dictates harsh punishments for those who violate lockdown measures. People convicted of spreading false information about the COVID-19 pandemic face up to five years in prison, while those violating curfew or quarantine face up to eight years.

Prior to the passing of the law, Orban announced a 14-day lockdown that was slated to run until April 11. A nationwide curfew was indefinitely extended on April 9. Under the lockdown measures, people are still allowed to go to work, shop for food and exercise outside — but they are not allowed to gather in groups. Hungary already shut its borders on March 17, barring foreign citizens from entering the country.


Restrictions in place until April 19 for businesses, lockdown for schools until April 26, borders closed until May 3

Poland closed its borders on March 13, barring most foreign nationals from entering the country. Restaurants, bars and other businesses deemed non-essential were also shut.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tightened lockdown measures on March 24, barring people from leaving their homes except to do essential activities, including: grocery shopping, walking the dog, going to work and taking care of elderly relatives. There is also a ban on public gatherings of more than two people — except for families.

The Polish government has also capped the number of people allowed to take part in religious services. No more than five people are allowed to attend funerals or other services. There are also restrictions in place on how many people are allowed to board public buses and trams.

Starting on April 19, restrictions for certain shops will be lifted. Schools will remain shut until at least April 26, while the borders will remain closed until May 3.

Despite the restrictions, Morawiecki said Poland's presidential election is set to go ahead as planned on May 10.


Restrictions in place until April 24

Ukraine has also implemented a sweeping ban on passenger travel starting on March 17, barring foreign nationals from arriving on planes, trains and buses. Rail traffic within the country has also been restricted, although limited flights are still permitted.

Lockdown measures have closed schools, universities, bars and restaurants as well as mass events. The government declared a state of national emergency on March 25 and extended lockdown measures until April 24.

Czech Republic

Restrictions in place until April 30

The Czech Republic declared a month-long state of emergency on March 12, shutting the borders to foreign nationals and putting all people in the country under quarantine. At the beginning of April, the state of emergency was extended until April 30.

Under the initial quarantine measures, all people were required to stay at home except to carry out essential duties — which did not include personal exercise. The government also implemented a strict mask requirement — requiring everyone to cover their mouths with a medical mask, self-made mask or scarf when leaving their homes.

Starting on March 26, people were allowed to leave their homes, but not in groups larger than two people — except for families. On April 7, individual outdoor sports were once again allowed to take place. Masks are no longer required when exercising outside, provided people keep a distance of 2 meters.


Restrictions in place indefinitely

Serbia has implemented one of the strictest set of lockdown measures in Europe, with President Aleksandar Vucic declaring an open-ended state of emergency on March 15.

A 12-hour police-enforced curfew is in place for most citizens, while residents over 65-years-old face a 24-hour curfew except on Sundays.

All borders are closed for passenger traffic, including all commercial flights. Public transportation throughout the country has been suspended and all public parks have been closed. Vucic has assumed full power under the emergency measures.


Workforce told to stay home until April 30

Moscow issued a citywide quarantine for its residents starting on March 30 which has been extended until further notice. The self-isolation order applies to all residents, with limited exceptions for those who need to seek medical care, shop for food or go to work. Russia's second-largest city of St. Petersburg has followed suit, as well as several other regions.

Starting on April 15, Moscow will implement a digital pass system. Residents will be required to download a QR code to move around the city, declaring their route in advance which authorities can then check. Violating the system's rules could result in fines between 1,000 to 40,000 rubles (€12.50 to €499; $13.70 to $548).

On March 28, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a month-long nationwide holiday, telling the country to take off work until April 30. Russia's Parliament has approved tough new laws to enforce local lockdown rules — with penalties of up to seven years for violating quarantine rules and causing others to die. Football matches in Russia have been suspended until May 31.