Potential California curfew could draw lessons from San Diego County to Saudi Arabia

Newsom examining curfews in four countries
Posted at 4:53 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-19 09:26:17-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — As COVID-19 cases surge, Governor Gavin Newsom says he’s considering the possibility of a statewide curfew that could draw on examples from Europe and the Middle East.

The restrictions could also be informed by policies in San Diego County. The state has asked San Diego County to provide information about its 10 pm mandated closure policy for restaurants, a county spokesman said.

Starting Friday, Los Angeles County will enact a similar measure it’s calling a “business curfew” that will require restaurants and other non-essential businesses to close at 10 pm.

“We have a lot of questions about what [a statewide curfew] looks like,” Newsom said in a press conference Monday. “Who does it impact? Who doesn’t it impact? What does a real curfew mean in terms of certain kinds of industry and business activities? That’s what we’re referring to in this space.”

Newsom seemed to suggest a statewide curfew isn’t a foregone conclusion, but said he is reviewing studies on curfews in France, Germany and Saudi Arabia. He later cited Portugal as another potential example.

The decision on how to craft a curfew policy will be based on data from those studies, he said.

In all four countries, restrictions have changed over time and it is not clear which iterations California is reviewing. The California Department of Health declined to provide more information when contacted Tuesday.

“If we have additional details, we'll let you know,” a spokesperson said via email.

Under France’s old rules, restaurants and bars had to close from 9 pm to 6 am. In Germany, restaurants previously closed at 10 pm. However, many European countries announced more strict lockdown measures in October amid surging rates of transmission that include limits on movement and travel.

“Where there are areas that are very high risk, do you close them off in some way to not allow the spread to the areas with lower risk? We’ve seen that across the world,” said San Diego State University epidemiologist Dr. Eyal Oren.

Under France’s new month-long lockdown, police ticket people who do not carry written permission justifying their need to leave home for a valid reason. Valid reasons include going to work, buying groceries, getting medical help or taking a child to school
French citizens are allowed outside to exercise for one hour a day.

In most of Portugal, shops close at 10 pm, restaurants close at 10:30 pm and people have to be in their homes by 11 pm with limited exceptions.

On Saturdays and Sundays, the restrictions take effect even earlier: people have to stay home starting at 1 pm. There are also police checkpoints limiting travel between cities.

Restrictions in Saudi Arabia have eased as the country prepares to host the G20 summit, but from March until late June the kingdom imposed a series of curfews that significantly limited movement.

At times, police enforced a so-called “24-hour nationwide curfew.” Under this policy, people were only allowed outside their homes from 6 am until 3 pm for essential purposes like getting medicine, food or supplies. Individuals who left home were required to stay within their specific neighborhood; they were prohibited from traveling to other parts of a city.

“Areas can be cordoned off to restrict transmission and that can work,” Dr. Oren said. “The degree to which people want to have the government do that is a whole different kind of question.”

Dr. Oren said studies have shown links between curfews and lower case rates, but he says compliance and enforcement of those policies can be challenging.

Many European countries paired their restrictions with big financial assistance programs to make them more popular. In Saudi Arabia, the kingdom covered 60 percent of employee salaries in the private sector and made healthcare free for everyone in the country.

If the upcoming restrictions in Los Angeles County are any indicator, California’s statewide curfew could be very similar to restrictions already in place in San Diego County. But Dr. Oren said there would still be one significant difference: messaging.

“I do think some of the words we’ve been using have become kind of stale,” he said, referring to phrases like stay-at-home orders.

Simply labeling a policy as a “curfew” might help change the public’s perception of the dangers of the pandemic, he said.