COVID-19 restrictions around the world: How do Australia's restrictions compare?

As much of eastern Australia feels the sting of yet another lockdown, what has the experience been in some other countries?

With the possible exception of Palau, Saint Helena, Greenland and few other isolated spots with zero cases, no country gets the gold medal.

While there is much talk both here and overseas about Australia's ongoing lockdowns, many other countries have endured long periods of restrictions of various level of harshness.

Here are how COVID-19 restrictions have played out in several other Western democracies. In the case of the US, we've looked at a few key states as the restrictions varied from one state to the next.

New York State

The state recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 1, 2020, but scientists believe there may have been as many as 10,000 infections at that date, and case numbers rocketed. On March 20 a stay-at-home order locked down the whole state. All non-essential businesses and construction sites closed, schools and some universities shifted to online learning and restaurants were restricted to take-away orders. A month later all state residents were ordered to wear face masks in public places except where social distancing was possible. By mid-May the state began lifting restrictions county-by-county according to the number of infections.

In late June New York City allowed outdoor dining at restaurants, in-store retail shopping and workers to return to offices. In October, infections spiked, but only in some areas of the city. Hoping to avoid a city-wide shutdown, authorities divided New York into red, orange and yellow zones, depending on coronavirus test results. Businesses and schools in red zones were shut, mass gatherings outlawed and only grocery stores and other essential businesses were allowed to open.

This granular strategy worked, and by early November there was only one red area in the whole state. Nearly all remaining Covid-related restrictions were finally lifted on June 15, 2021.


The state recorded its first coronavirus death in early March 2020. Fearing an all-out epidemic that could see over half the state's population infected, on March 15, 2020,

Governor Gavin Newsom ordered all bars, nightclubs and wineries closed. Four days later all 40 million of the state's residents were ordered to shelter in place, shutting down the world's fifth-largest economy.


Despite the lockdown and further restrictions including a requirement for mask wearing in some state counties, infections and deaths rose steadily during April but by May, the state was relaxing some of the restrictions. Restaurants, movie theatres, wineries, fitness centres and hotels reopened in mid-June but a month later most of those facilities closed again due to rising infections.

In September 2020 the state divided its counties according to a four-tiered, color-coded system, ranking each county by the average daily number of new Covid-19 cases. In early December Governor Newsom announced tougher restrictions including a new stay at home order, restaurants open only for take-aways, a ban on all non-essential travel and public gatherings of any size. Those restrictions began easing in March, and as of June 15, 2021, the governor terminated the Stay Home Order along with most other pandemic-related orders.

Washington State

The north-western state became the first in the US to record a confirmed case of COVID-19, on January 21, 2020. Numbers increased rapidly and until it was overtaken by New York in April, Washington had more cases per capita than any other US state. On February 29, Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency, followed by orders closing all schools, until the end of the academic year.

In March all restaurants were closed for indoor dining, followed by a closure of all entertainment and recreation facilities and a stay-at-home order. Following a pattern familiar in other states, Washington's lockdown began to ease in May 2020, but second-wave infections in late July saw controls on numbers at weddings and funerals, restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues. By November social gatherings were restricted and restaurants and bars closed for indoor service.

Restrictions were gradually lifted over February and March 2021, but not until the end of April were fully vaccinated individuals allowed to gather outdoors in small groups without masks. On June 7, 2021, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board announced a "Joints for Jabs" program.

Adults who received at least one vaccine dose could get a free marijuana joint. On June 30, 2021, nearly all statewide coronavirus restrictions on businesses and individuals finally ended.

See also: 'Back to normal': The Aussies living in America's most-vaccinated city


The first country outside China to detect the coronavirus, Italy was unprepared for what was to follow. Doctors were unaware of the symptoms and often made faulty diagnoses, allowing infections to spread through Italy's populous northern provinces. In late February the Italian government imposed quarantine restrictions on more than 50,000 people, followed by a lockdown in several provinces. Anyone who was infected and who did not require hospitalisation was not allowed to leave their home for any reason. In a sign of the seriousness of the lockdowns, all sporting events in Lombardy and Veneto were suspended, including football matches.

Case numbers began to fall in May and restrictions were relaxed, allowing another wave of infections to take root as people went to beaches, socialised and enjoyed the splendours of summer in Italy.

Faced with surging infections, in November 2020, Prime Minister Conte announced a new lockdown that divided the country into three zones. A national curfew was imposed from 10pm to 5am and high schools closed.

In the northern red zones, the only reasons to leave home were work, health, essential shopping or emergencies, with all non-essential shops and bars and restaurants closed. In April 2021 the government announced a timeline ending the most severe restrictions with restaurants, bars, museums and other cultural attractions allowed to re-open, but rising case numbers as the Delta variant takes hold and a worrying lowering of the average age of infected cases to 28 has the government pondering new restrictions.


The first two cases of COVID-19 were detected in the UK in late January 2020 yet the government delayed implementing containment measures until stay-at- home orders in mid-March, followed by the closure of all non-essential shops. By the end of March, when the UK was recording more than 3000 new infections per day, new orders increased the range of businesses ordered to close including pubs, clubs and restaurants, with limitations on freedom of movement.

In early May the government began easing restrictions and announced a plan for ending the lockdown, reopening schools and some shops and a return to work for those unable to work at home. Pubs, restaurants and cinemas reopened in July but in October, with infections rising, England moved to a three-tier system with pubs and restaurants closed in the most at-risk zones. At the end of the month the government imposed a fresh four-week lockdown.

Schools were allowed to completely reopen in March 2021, social distancing was relaxed and, outdoor pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops reopened in England in April. In May most rules affecting outdoor social contact were removed, restaurants, pubs and hotels opened but in June, the proposed end of all social contact restrictions was delayed due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant.

See also: Will AstraZeneca mean some Australians are unable to travel overseas?

See also: 'Do not travel?' It's time Australian travellers were treated like adults again