This is how lockdown happened in other countries - and what restrictions Britain might face as coronavirus pandemic deepens

A number of countries have already enforced lockdown in an effort to stem the spread of the virus (Photo: Shutterstock)A number of countries have already enforced lockdown in an effort to stem the spread of the virus (Photo: Shutterstock)
A number of countries have already enforced lockdown in an effort to stem the spread of the virus (Photo: Shutterstock)

The UK government is currently advising Britons to avoid unnecessary social contact and travel amid the coronavirus pandemic, but a full lockdown has not been ruled out, the Prime Minister has said.

MPs are returning to parliament to debate the government’s emergency Coronavirus Bill before it goes to the House of Lords, which could see the UK locked down and forced into self-isolation “very soon”.

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The Commons debate comes following a warning from Boris Johnson that the UK is heading towards a lockdown, after urgent appeals to the public to stay indoors were largely ignored over the weekend.

A number of countries have already enforced lockdown in an effort to stem the spread of the virus, including China, Italy and France.

What enforcements have other countries imposed?

In preparation for a potential UK lockdown, here are some of the enforcements that have been imposed in other countries around the world that have been worst affected by the virus outbreak.

Wuhan, China

Wuhan in China, where coronavirus is said to have originated, imposed what is probably the most extreme lockdown so far, with all journeys in and out of the city banned - even for those medical or humanitarian reasons.

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Public transport in the city was suspended and private cars were barred from the roads in most circumstances.

Most citizens live in residential blocks or compounds and were faced with barred visits, with only inhabitants, authorities, or carers helping the elderly or disable permitted access.

Schools and universities were already closed for the lunar new year, but this holiday was extended, and most shops were also shut, with only pharmacies and supermarkets kept open.

Residents were only permitted to leave their homes to pick up essential supplies or seek medical help - and those who did leave were required to wear a mask.

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Conditions were tightened two weeks later, with authorities ordering house searches for potentially infected individuals, who were then forced into quarantine.

Some restrictions have now been lifted, with residents in key industries able to return to work. However, schools still remain closed and transport restrictions are still in place.


Italy shut down the northern region on 8 March, which was hardest hit by the virus, and extended restrictions to the whole country just two days later.

Travel is now only allowed for “urgent, verifiable work situations and emergencies, or health reasons”, and anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus must not leave their homes for any reason.

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Any citizens who have a fever or respiratory symptoms are also strongly encouraged to stay at home and limit social contact, including with their doctor.

Public and private companies have been urged to put their staff on leave, in a bid to avoid work-related travel, and only supermarkets and pharmacies still remain open.

Both universities and schools are closed, with exams now cancelled, and all gatherings in public places have been banned, not just large-scale events.

Similarly, museums, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and other leisure venues, including ski resorts, have also closed, and sporting events have been cancelled.

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Religious institutions have remained open, although people are to stay a metre from one another. Marriage ceremonies, baptisms and funerals have been banned.


France went into full lockdown on Tuesday 17 March, with citizens banned from leaving their homes except to buy food or essentials, visit the doctors, or travel to a job that is certified as not being possible to do from home.

Citizens must carry a document that certifies why they are outside, which must be shown to security forces.


San Francisco and five other Bay Area counties in California have ordered all residents to “shelter in place, effective until 7 April.

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The voluntary order is directing residents to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary.

All businesses that are considered non-essential, such as bars and gyms, have been ordered to close, but the likes of pharmacies, grocery stores, petrol stations, and restaurants serving takeaway will remain open.

Residents are permitted to leave their homes for essential tasks, but have been asked to keep six feet away from other people.

All non-essential gatherings of any size have also been prohibited, along with non-essential travel on “foot, bicycle, scooter, automobile, or public transit”.

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Airports, taxis and public transport will still remain operational, but only for essential travel.

How would a UK lockdown work?

The government is currently only advising the public to avoid unnecessary social contact and travel.

People have also been urged not to congregate in places with large numbers, including pubs, clubs, restaurants, and theatres.

Residents in both France and Italy have been told to stay at home during their lockdowns, with members of the public having to apply to make trips.

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Italian citizens have been asked to make an application to prove that their planned travel is necessary, while in France, only the most essential trips are allowed to be made.

Extra police also patrol the streets of cities like Paris, handing out fines of up to €350 (around £330) to those who flout the rules without good reason.

In most countries affected by lockdowns, residents are still allowed out to stock up on supplies from grocery stores, or to exercise – at a safe distance from others.

If the UK, or London specifically, are to be forced into lockdown, it is expected the country will take a similar approach, with the public banned from all non-essential movements.

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On Wednesday (18 Mar), the Prime Minister announced that all schools in the UK will close from Friday (20 Mar) “until further notice”, marking another step towards complete lockdown.

How long could a lockdown last?

While a UK lockdown has not yet been announced, if the measure is implemented it is expected to last for at least “several months”, and possibly up to a year to allow the country to get over the worst of the virus.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, leader of the Health Protection Research Group at Nottingham University, told Today that more people will encounter the coronavirus and become resistant with so-called herd immunity, but said "that will take time".

He said: “You're absolutely right that we can't say how long this will need to go on for.

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"I don't know if it could be a year yet. I think we are too far out to make those kind of predictions but I certainly think it could be several months."

What is the current advice in the UK?

The government is currently asking people to reduce their social contact, with those who are most at risk of the virus urged to self-isolate.

This includes avoiding non-essential use of public transport, working from home where possible, avoiding large gatherings and those in smaller public spaces, such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants and theatres, and avoiding gatherings with family and friends.

Those who show symptoms of the virus, including a high temperature and a new continuous cough, should stay at home for 14 days to avoid the spread of infection, along with all other members of the household. Those who live alone should isolate themselves for seven days.

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Everyone has been asked to undertake social distancing measures to help delay the spread of coronavirus, with avoidance of non-essential use of public transport, working from home, and avoidance of large gatherings being among the key efforts.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) issued clarification on the difference between who should be in household isolation and who should take social distancing measures on Tuesday (17 Mar).

The DHSC said: “From today we are asking all individuals to follow social distancing measures to delay the spread of the virus.

"If you are 70 or over, under 70 but have an underlying health condition (you are eligible for an adult flu vaccine), or a pregnant woman you are strongly advised to follow the below guidance:

- Avoid contact with someone who is unwell;

- Avoid public transport;

- Work from home;

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- Avoid large gatherings, religious congregations, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs;

- Avoid gatherings with friends and family particularly if someone has symptoms of Covid-19 or has recently been unwell;

- Anyone who has symptoms or anyone who has been in contact with someone symptomatic should not be in contact with a vulnerable person for at least seven days;Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services."

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

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What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

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Government advice

As of Monday 16 March the Government advised that everyone should be observing social distancing - avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home where possible. Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms now needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has also advised against going to the pub, out for dinner or partaking in any socialising with large groups. This has caused a number of closures across the country. Schools will close from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home.

Should I avoid public places?

The advice now is to avoid public places and any noon-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

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What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS