17 June 2020

Mapping COVID-19 government measures worldwide


In mid-March 2020, after WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, ACAPS – an independent information provider – started putting together a COVID19 Government Measures Dataset. The dataset includes the measures implemented by governments worldwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic within five categories: social distancing, movement restrictions, public health measures, social and economic measures and lockdowns. Together with a team of dedicated volunteers, ACAPS has extracted data from governments’ websites, media, and other organisations’ sources in order to create an overview of the more than 7700 different measurements taken across 190 countries.

Government Measures Dataset - Graph
The interactive Dataset contains more than 7700 measurements implemented by governments in response to COVID-19.

Text: Eibhlin Caimbeul

Mixed Methods analyst and responsible for #COVID19 Government Measures Dataset, Claudia Manili, and her team of student volunteers from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Lund, has given School of Global Health some insights into the demanding work required in order to map government measures worldwide.

The project started as an internal project involving ACAPS staff only, yet quickly evolved into a more demanding project. To Manili, the help of the student volunteers has been crucial in finalising the dataset: “Covering a global scale phenomenon and a global scale data collection is demanding and also a little bit out of scope compared to what ACAPS usually deals with since it involves so many layers of society. Having the students voluntarily devoting 20 hours a week to this project has been one of the reasons why it has been possible to publish the dataset", Manili explains.

Unintended second-hand impacts of government measures

Molly O’Meara, a global health student at the University of Copenhagen, in search of ways to actively use her academic background during the pandemic, started working as a student volunteer for ACAPS in mid-March. In the dataset, she has focussed on 30 different countries, mostly English-speaking countries in Africa, including many countries from Northern, Southern and Western Africa as well as the UK, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Due to the great variation in the different countries and their different responses, O’Meara has gained an insight into the multitude of ways of tackling a pandemic:

“Different countries have tackled the crisis in a variety of ways, where some are enforcing rules and others are laying out recommendations. It depends very much on the government in the country, and also the culture of how much people listen and trust the government. Particularly, I have noticed second-hand impacts of the rules and regulations in place in some countries. Things that aren’t necessarily completely connected to COVID-19 are being prohibited. For example, South Africa and some other Southern African countries are banning alcohol and cigarettes. In return, this is now building an underground unregulated trade of illegal items.”

Government measures are starting to be phased out

Bridget Poserina, a global development student from the University of Copenhagen and also part of the student team on the ACAPS dataset, covered countries in French-speaking Africa, Southeast Asia as well as a few countries in the Middle East. To Poserina, it was a bit chaotic in the beginning of the project as government measures came in waves. Now, most countries have established some sort of partial lockdown system or quarantine policies but things are changing rapidly:

Every two to four weeks depending upon the country and the context, the policies are usually refreshed. Now (Red: at the time of the interview, 15 May) I am starting to notice that some phase-out measures are starting to become more prominent in some countries depending on the status of the outbreak and the involvement of the government within that outbreak. The capacity of businesses, industries, manufacturing and so on is a large factor in the phase-out measures”.

Middle Eastern countries fighting pre-existing sanctions

Poserina has also observed dispute over the sanctions in place in some Middle Eastern countries before the COVID-19 outbreak hit:

They’re saying that these sanctions are preventing them from getting medical care and medical supplies into the countries. There have been a lot of political calls, especially in the Middle East, especially in Iran and Afghanistan and other countries as well. You see a lot of the press statements and political releases are fighting the sanctions that are currently in place because of the structural limitations in accessing health care”, she explains.

Using Twitter to collect data

Poserina and O’Meara quickly realised that different platforms can provide the necessary information for the data collection:

“It varies quite a lot where to find the data depending on the countries. In some countries it’s very easy, you just go to the Ministry of Health or some government website where it’s all laid out. But with other countries it needs a lot more digging to find the regulations. In many cases, using social media can be helpful. Twitter is actually very useful for finding the regulations”, O’Meara explains.

Making sure data is reliable is of course crucial when producing this dataset, which consists of 70% governmental sources. It means that the information gathered is frequently discussed at ACAPS:

I’ve seen some cases, North Korea specifically, where countries may say they’re not implementing measures and it’s very difficult to get accurate reads through the media. Because if we’re saying we’re tracking government measures, and we are actually tracking what the media says, the government measures are, it kind of compromises the whole dataset,” Poserina explains.

Moreover, to discuss the different measures and categorisations, ACAPS has been in discussion with different actors, such as WHO, CDC, UN agencies, the EU, and other actors.

People are making messy comparisons

As mentioned, the rules and regulations are coded and categorised into five different categories: social distancing, movement restrictions, public health measures, social and economic measures, and lockdowns. They are furthermore distributed into regions, type of source, date of implementation etc. Data collection relies on secondary data review, which involves collation of data and collective discussion on different measures and categorisations. Many actors are participating in the public debate at the moment. To Manili this is problematic:

“They are comparing things that are not comparable, which results in misunderstandings and leading outcomes. It is a mess sometimes, to be honest. We don’t understand a lot of things because people are overlapping things, that are just not comparable.”.

As a response to this, ACAPS provides comparable evidence-based data and analyses, which is mainly open source, so it can be accessed for free.

The dataset was published on ACAPS’ website in May 2020 and is available for download.

What is ACAPS?

The humanitarian sector has exploded in the past years. ACAPS was established as a non-profit, non-governmental organisation in 2009 when the humanitarian sector was starting to become more professionalised. According to Manili, it was one of the very first actors to go on the ground for assessment, making this more robust with more academic methodology. Now the group of staff consists of more than 40 full-time professionals dedicated to researching and analysing global crisis specific data supported by a team devoted to communications, fundraising, and finance.

Read more about ACAPS here.

Traineeships at ACAPS

The government measures dataset has been the only project where ACAPS has relied on volunteers’ assistance recently, but other volunteer opportunities can and will emerge. Otherwise, there is the opportunity of one-year traineeships at ACAPS. With this traineeship, you will be educated to become an information analyst in the humanitarian sector. Accordingly, it offers training and insight into humanitarian work, how to handle data, data analysis techniques as well as training in specific softwares.

Read more about this possibility here.