Covid: How are other countries easing their coronavirus lockdowns?

  • ITV News senior foreign correspondent John Irvine looks at how Israel has been easing its restrictions

The prime minister has laid out the government's road map for lifting all Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in England by June 21 - but many major economies are taking a different approach.

While the UK and Israel's strategy is underpinned by a rapid roll-out of vaccines, other countries - especially in Europe - have been more cautious in approving jabs as the full risk posed by coronavirus variants are still unknown.

So how are other nations planning to ease their lockdown restrictions?

A market stall in Tel Aviv where lockdown restrictions have been eased after a rapid vaccination roll-out. Credit: AP
  • Israel

Like the UK, Israel has focused on the Covid vaccine to get its economy and society out of lockdown.

Its rapid roll-out of a vaccination campaign and has been the fastest in the world with at least one dose administered to more than 50% of its 9.3 million population.

A second dose has been given to about a third of its population in less than two months.

Clinics have even offered free food and cappuccinos to help lure reluctant holdouts to come in and get the jab.

And its efforts are bearing fruit, with the number of new coronavirus infections and serious cases dropping, allowing the government to lift a number of restrictions on Sunday.

Shops, markets, shopping malls and many schools have now reopening after a two-month lockdown and restaurants are expected to open by the end of March.

Social distancing and masks are still required, however.

Other facilities are able to open including gyms, hotels and synagogues but are only permitted to allow people with a 'green passport' - a vaccine certificate - which proves they have had the jab.

The passport, delivered in an app, is issued by the health ministry and valid for six months one week after the second dose has been administered.

Even large events like concerts and sporting events are taking place again at 75% capacity, with limits of 300 people inside and 500 outside.

However, Israel's airport will remain closed for another two weeks.

People queue for vaccines in Lyon. Credit: AP
  • France

Our closest neighbour is a long way behind the UK’s vaccine total, with just 2.6 million having their first jab so far - a fraction of the country's 67 million population.

But despite stubbornly high infection rates, particularly around Nice, the French are not under lockdown.

Instead, there is a national curfew in force between 6pm and 6am, meaning hospitality businesses still have a chance to trade in the daytime.

Schools in some areas – including Bordeaux, Grenoble and Lyon – have reopened following the introduction of lateral flow testing for students, with more due to open in the coming weeks.

A localised lockdown is due to come into force this weekend in the Alpes-Maritimes region for a minimum of two weeks to try to bring the spike in cases under control.

The area around Nice currently has 7,000 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants, the highest rate in France.

The empty square in front of the Old Opera in Frankfurt as lockdowns continue in Germany Credit: Michael Probst/AP
  • Germany

The current nationwide shutdown in Germany, that began in November, is due to last until March 7 with a potential extension to be discussed by regional leaders on March 3.

But some restrictions are set to be softened slightly ahead of that date, with hairdressers allowed to reopen from March 1 subject to strict hygiene measures.

Schools and daycare centres are also starting to reopen, with individual states having control of how they approach lifting restrictions on education.

Employers must allow all those who can to work from home until at least March 15.

  • Italy

Italy, one of the hardest-hit European nations – is currently relying on an approach similar to the UK’s previous tier system, with regions assigned as either white, yellow, orange or red.

Under the rules imposed by the newly formed government, there can be no visits between regions until at least March 27, with no inter-household visiting at all in red zones.

Four cities in the Lombardy region, including one in the province of Brescia, have been placed under the strictest red zone lockdown measures following spikes of infections traced to the highly contagious Kent Covid variant.

Other red zones have been imposed in cities in the central Italian regions of Umbria, Tuscany, Abruzzo and Lazio, sparking calls for another nationwide lockdown from hospital doctors who are once again seeing their ICU beds fill up.

Officers patrol one of the main access road to Bollate, in the outskirts of Milan as areas have been put in strict 'red zone' measures. Credit: AP

Senior health adviser Walter Ricciardi has also called for universal measures to be imposed.

Lockdown could therefore get significantly tighter for Italians before it is lifted.

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  • Australia and New Zealand

It is a dramatically different picture in Australia and New Zealand, where swift and very strict border restrictions imposed at the very start of the pandemic have allowed the two nations to avoid protracted lockdowns.

But a leading Australian epidemiologist has said a system of hotel quarantine for new arrivals could be in place for a long time yet, as scientists gauge the threat posed by new variants.

A testing centre in Sydney. Credit: AP

Professor Catherine Bennett, of Deakin University in Victoria, told the All Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus on Tuesday: “We do have to have the big conversations about whether we let the virus into the country.

“If we think the vaccines have covered us enough to protect our elderly, our vulnerable, our health systems from the impact of serious illness and deaths, then it might be that we are in a position to relax the borders.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she will not reopen the country’s borders until everyone is protected from Covid-19 Credit: Nick Perry/AP

Prof Bennett said Australia might get to a point where the quarantine system focuses on screening for variants, thereby allowing those positive for less-worrying strains waved through border control.

Those positive for vaccine-resistant strains would potentially be detained in hotels for two weeks, she said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been firm that she will not consider reopening the country’s borders to foreign nationals until its citizens are “vaccinated and protected”.

Currently, it’s vaccination programme for its wider population is not scheduled to start until the second half of the year.

Large parts of Japan are still under state of emergency measures Credit: Koji Sasahara/AP
  • Japan

Many parts of Japan are currently under a state of emergency, which imposes restrictions including reduced hours for the hospitality industry, an 8pm curfew, and encourages working from home.

The measures are due to stay in place until March 7.

Japan only began its mass vaccination programme last month, and may consider extending the lockdown in some regions to allow the programme to take effect.

Covid-19 testing for travellers entering Quebec from the United States Credit: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
  • Canada

Covid-19 restrictions in Canada are controlled by regional governments rather than national level, as it is such as varied picture across the country.

For example, Ontario was forced to impose a province-wide lockdown in January in response to rising cases, but has now returned most areas to a colour coded tier-style system.

Over on the west coast, British Columbians are told to only mix with their own household or their designated core bubble, including when visiting public spaces such bars and restaurants.

Canada’s vaccination programme has lagged behind other countries, with only 1.6 million receiving their first dose, and complaints from doctors that there is confusion over the rollout.

  • USA

The US hit the grim milestone of 500,000 Covid-19 deaths on Monday.

President Joe Biden is pinning his hopes on the vaccine programme to get the pandemic under control rather than imposing nation-wide lockdown restrictions.

President Joe Biden speaks about the 500,000 Americans that have lost their lives to Covid-19 Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

Last month, he vowed that by the end of August, the US would have enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans, but noted the rollout would be “one of the most difficult operational challenges we’ve ever undertaken”.