Variation in the response to COVID-19 across the four nations of the United Kingdom

Blavatnik School working paper
Abstract

BSG-WP-2020/035 Version 2.0

This working paper is updated frequently. This is version 2.0 published on 7 April 2021.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom (UK) in early 2020, the four nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have responded with a wide range of measures. Due to the devolved powers afforded to the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all four nations of the UK have used their autonomy to implement and ease COVID-19 restrictions.

While economic support and public health measures have been similar across the four UK nations, and all four nations have been at a Stringency Index value of over 50 since March 2020, the different governments have diverged in their implementation of closure and containment policies since May 2020.

The Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) provides a systematic way to measure and compare government responses to COVID-19 across the four nations from 1 January 2020 to the present, and will be updated continuously going forward. The tracker combines individual indicators into a series of novel indices that aggregate various measures of government responses. These can be used to describe variation in government responses, explore whether the government response affects the rate of infection, and identify correlates of more or less intense responses.

Key findings
  • All four nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) have diverged in the timing, duration, and stringency of their responses measured by Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) indicators, highlighting their autonomy and legislative powers as devolved nations.
  • While the broad pattern over the past year has been that the UK nations increased and decreased the stringency of closure and containment policies at similar times, within a similar range of stringency, there is some variation within this.
  • Scotland had the highest average Stringency Index value during all days in 2020 (with an average value of 58.09). England had the lowest average stringency during all days in 2020, (with an average value of 54.94).
  • All four nations reached their highest Stringency Index levels (87.96) for the first time in early January 2021, as the international travel controls value increased due to bans on inbound travel from countries linked to the emergence of variants.
  • Stay-at-home orders in 2020 were in place in England for 92 days, Wales for 99 days, Scotland for 68 days, and Northern Ireland for 50 days.
  • The Stringency Index values for all four nations are slowly decreasing as restrictions ease in tandem with the extensive vaccine rollout.
Key differences in policies over the past year
  • Stay-at-home orders: The first stay-at-home order from March 2020 ended in England and Northern Ireland on 3 May 2020, ending two weeks later in Scotland on 29 May, and Wales on 1 June. England and Wales required people to stay at home for several weeks in October and November of 2020 while Northern Ireland and Scotland did not. While Wales ordered a second national stay-at-home order on 20 December 2020, England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland didn’t introduce another legally enforceable national stay-at-home order until January 2021.
  • School closures: After the first round of restrictions in March 2020, England reopened some levels of schooling on 1 June 2020, followed by all levels in Wales on 29 June, while education remained closed in Scotland until 22 July, and in Northern Ireland on 24 August. Schools were closed in Scotland again on 26 December 2020, and in Wales on 14 December, followed by Northern Ireland on 4 January 2021, and England on 5 January 2021.
  • ‘Circuit breakers’: Scotland was the only UK nation not to implement a national ‘circuit breaker’ style lockdown in October and November 2020.
  • Internal movement: All nations of the UK except for England have introduced distance restrictions on internal movement.