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COVID-19: which European country has the strictest response policy?

A team from Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford has been collecting data on policies that governments from more than 180 countries have been adopting to address the pandemic.

With the 17 indicators they designed, they came up with the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker. They divided their findings into four indices: overall government response, economic support, containment and health, and stringency.

The latter scores the strictness of countries’ measures and aims to fuel the discussion regarding appropriate measures.

Which European country is the strictest in its response policy?

Source: Stringency Index from Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker • Last updated on August 27
Data not available for Armenia, Liechtenstein and Malta

Flourish logoA Flourish chart

Kosovo (69.44/100) appears to be the strictest country in Europe in terms of its government’s response to the pandemic whereas Belarus and Georgia are the most lenient with 8.33/100 each.

As for the European Union, Portugal takes the lead with 66.2/100 while Estonia and Lithuania rank last (19.44/100).

How is the index calculated?

“We score the presence of policy,” Dr Anna Petherick, lecturer and one of the authors of the tracker told Euronews. “The main point is that it provides this objective measure of what different countries are doing,” she added.

To measure the stringency for instance, they took into account nine indices: from school and workplace closings, transportation, restrictions on travelling and gatherings to stay at home requirements and public information campaigns.

About 290 contributors update the information from government officials or news reports and convert them into a bespoke coding system.

“If people are allowed to gather in groups of 50, that gets one rating, if they can only gather in groups of 5, that is a more intense rating,” explained co-author of the tracker, Toby Phillips.

“The heterogeneity of government responses is exactly why a standardised, transparent, comparative measure is needed”, argued Dr Thomas Hale, an associate professor in public policy who too worked on the project.

The stricter the better?

“The initial outbreak suggests that there is a relationship between both the strictness of the policy response and the speed of the policy response with both being associated with lower deaths,” Phillips claimed.

“There is also a challenge of ‘lockdown fatigue,’ particularly for populations that lack the economic resources or support to sustain physical distancing measures” noted Hale.

A Flourish data visualization

Data shows that the number of daily, coronavirus-related deaths (in grey) are indeed correlated to the strictness of governments’ measures (in blue).

Interestingly, it highlights the observed delay between implementing new actions and the mortality rate.

The original point of the tools is not to measure the effectiveness of such policies — as situations may largely vary from one country to another and the number of cases recorded depends on how much testing is carried out — but “to make a contribution to the conversation”, Petherick said.

She explained that, while it’s been difficult to assess single measures that belong to sets of actions taken in the aftermath of the first wave altogether, it is now becoming easier to evaluate the effect as they are being eased one after the other.

“The variation in governmental responses exposes the difficulty of responding to a consummately transnational threat with nearly 200 different national policies,” the authors wrote.

*ECDC Methodology

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reports the number of deaths by the date of report, whereas the national authorities — as in France’s case — may report deaths by date of death. It may lead to minor discrepancies regarding the dates of the report.

By Mathieu Pollet