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New research: explaining the homogeneous diffusion of COVID-19 nonpharmaceutical interventions across heterogeneous countries

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every part of the globe. In the early phase of the pandemic, countries adopted nonpharmaceutical interventions. These interventions included school closures, travel restrictions, curfews, and quarantines. These strategies were motivated by the need for “social distancing” in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But it was not always clear which of these interventions work best. For this reason, governments were faced with the dilemma of acting both quickly and correctly.

New research, conducted in part at the House of Innovation, focused on the actions of governments faced with slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This research found that in times of severe crisis, governments follow the lead of others and base their decisions on what other countries do. Governments in countries with a stronger democratic structure were slower to react in the face of the pandemic, but were more sensitive to the influence of other countries.

This research investigated what drives OECD countries to adopt COVID-19 restrictive policies such as lockdowns and school closures, and found that government policies are strongly driven by the policies initiated in other countries. The level of democracy also matters: While strong democracies are slower to initiate restrictive policies, they are more likely to follow the policies of nearby countries. Following the lead of others rather than making decisions based on the specific situation of the country may have led to countries locking down either too early or too late. Conversely, if countries follow each other when easing restrictive policies or reinitiate such policies, there may be a situation where countries adopt epidemiologically suboptimal policies.

Research like this is important because it provides insights for further research on international policy diffusion and research on the political consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Abiel Sebhatua,b,1, Karl Wennberga,b,c, Stefan Arora-Jonssond,e, and Staffan I. Lindbergf

a: Institute for Analytical Sociology, Linköping University, SE-601 74 Norrköping, Sweden;

b: Stockholm School of Economics, SE-113 83 Stockholm, Sweden;

c: Ratio Institute, SE-113 59 Stockholm, Sweden;

d: Department of Business Studies, Uppsala University, SE-751 20 Uppsala, Sweden;

e: Institute of Management and Organization, Università della Svizzera Italiana, 6900 Lugano, Switzerland;

f: V-Dem Institute, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, SE-405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

House of Innovation Health COVID-19 Governance Politics Article Journal Paper Publication Research