Coronavirus (COVID-19): international policing responses - part 1 - during lockdown

This review (part 1) considers international policing approaches and responses to policing the lockdown, up to the 7 May 2020.


Main points

  • People leaving their homes are required to fill in a self-declaration form
  • Individuals who are found to be away from their homes without any reasonable excuse can be fined between 400 and 3,000 euros
  • In some cases, individuals have been charged with criminal offences
  • The police have set up checkpoints
  • Helicopters and drones used to monitor population's movements
  • A contact-tracing app is being developed
  • There have been claims that the new lockdown regulations are unconstitutional, giving too much power to the president who is bypassing Parliament's scrutiny of the new decrees
  • Phase 2 started on 4 May, with some businesses reopening and people being allowed to visit family

The lockdown

Italy announced a nation-wide lockdown on 11 March. The original lockdown included:[91]

  • school closures
  • a ban on leaving one's comune (Italian municipality), apart from health or work reasons
  • a closure of all parks and public green spaces
  • a ban on visiting second homes
  • a halting of all non-essential production and businesses
  • ports closures

Outdoor physical activity was only allowed if carried out in proximity to one's home.

The new April 10 Decree extended the lockdown measures for containing the coronavirus pandemic until 03 May, as well as announcing the reopening of some businesses like bookstores.[92]

During the first phase of the lockdown, people could only travel for:

  • urgent, proven work-related reasons
  • health reasons
  • situations of special need (buying food, urgent family matters)

Policing the lockdown

In all cases, these reasons had to be verifiable by the police. People were being encouraged to pre-emptively fill in a self-declaration document where they state the reason why they are leaving their house; alternatively, such forms would be provided by the police if and when the person was stopped. A doctor's or employer's note may also have been required.[93] Providing false information in the self-declaration document is an offence which entails immediate reporting to the judicial authorities.[94]

Police forces[95] and carabinieri (a military force which carries out policing duties similar to the police) have been deployed to ensure lockdown measures are being followed. Individuals who are found to be away from their homes without any reasonable excuse can be fined between 400 and 3,000 euros. In some cases, individuals have been charged with criminal offences. If individuals who are supposed to be in self-isolation because they have tested positive for coronavirus are found outside their homes, they can be sentenced to between one and five years in jail. Businesses which are found not to be following government's guidance around social distancing measures can be ordered to close for up to 30 days.[96]

The police set up checkpoints, especially on roads outside of major cities, to check who is leaving and why. They have also been using drones and helicopters.[97] Between 11 March and 27 April, 10.861.031 people and 4.232.309 businesses had undergone checks by the police.[98]

Army involvement

The Army has also been involved, mostly to support other bodies involved in the emergency response to COVID-19, for example by assisting with the building of hospitals and with handling deaths. A number of army officers are also patrolling cities in support to the police forces, and Army medical staff has been redeployed to civilian hospitals.[99] Notably, on 19 March, the Army was deployed to the city of Bergamo, the worst hit Italian city by the coronavirus, as the local authorities could no longer process the number of dead residents. Army trucks transported bodies to crematoriums in several other cities, as cemeteries in the city were full. To date, the Army has not been required to help enforce restrictions.


As part of its Phase 2, Italy is currently developing a voluntary contract tracing app, called Immuni, which has however raised a number of concerns around privacy and anonymity. Recently, the government has re-iterated that the app will respect privacy laws and that will only be operative during the emergency. It is expected that Immuni will be available for download by the end of May.[100]


There have been a number of high-profile cases in which individuals claimed they had been fined without a good cause, or that the police reacted disproportionately. There has been mounting pressure from the Government's opposition to 'reinstate all the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution' during Phase 2, claiming that some of the measures taken by the Italian Government during the lockdown have been unconstitutional.[101] Such claim is based on the fact that the President of the Council of Ministers, currently Giuseppe Conte, has been issuing so-called Decrees of the President (DPCM). These were made executive without parliamentary debate and without their transformation into law, and hence without public scrutiny as the Constitution mandates.[102]

Easing the lockdown

Italy has announced Phase 2 will begin on 4 May. This will allow people to start socialising with individuals they have a close relationship with, including partners and relatives, and people will be able to exercise outdoors alone. Individuals leaving their homes will still be required to fill in a new version of the self-declaration form. Building sites and some factories which had previously been closed have now started reopening too. It has been announced that non-essential shops will start reopening on 18 May, and that businesses such as hairdressers and restaurants will reopen at the start of June, but will need to strictly adhere to social distancing measures. Some regions, such as Veneto and Calabria, have deviated from national policies and have already lifted some further lockdown measures,[103] reflecting the varying infection rates across Italy's regions. Checks carried out by the police will continue in Phase 2, with some areas having announced an increased police presence on major roads[104] and on public transport,[105] and the use of drones to prevent people from gathering outside.[106]



Back to top