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

Blavatnik School working paper
Emily Cameron-Blake
Helen Tatlow
Andrew Wood


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 to break the chain of infection and manage the broader impacts of the disease.

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 restrictions. While economic support and public health measures have been similar across the four UK nations, the different governments have implemented different closure and containment policies since May 2020.

The Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker 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 points
  • All four nations of the UK implemented similar lockdown-style restrictions in mid March to combat the increasing cases and spread of COVID-19, but diverged in their approach to easing restrictions. 
  • Scotland has been the most consistent with their restrictions and stringency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK thus far. 
  • England eased restrictions earlier than the other three nations and maintained the lowest restrictions until early October. 
  • All four nations of the UK saw increased COVID-19 cases and deaths following the return of students to schools and universities in September. 
  • With the increase in cases across the UK in September and October, all four nations have imposed stricter measures to reduce and contain the spread of COVID-19. 
  • Where the four nations have varied most in their policies regarding COVID-19 restrictions is regarding domestic movement: Scotland was the last to fully drop a 5 mile domestic travel restriction on 7 July compared to 13 May in England.