What are ‘essential services’ around the world?
Concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no pre-determined or defined list of what constitutes ‘essential services.’ Given the lack of precedents, the list of ‘essential services’ in many countries is constantly evolving and is updated periodically.
Many countries have provided a list of ‘essential services’ that are exempt from closure during the lockdown. While there is no ‘specific definition’ given, generally these are:
- Services/workforces directly related to or indirectly support COVID-19 response.
- Services that are necessary to maintain financial stability.
- Services related to public safety and national security.
United States of America
In the U.S., the list of essential services differs from state-to-state as states have amended the federal guidelines to reflect their unique economy’s needs (Washington Post, 2020). In Massachusetts, for instance, wide-ranging services related to the following are considered essential: (mass.gov., 2020).
- Human Services
- Public Health
- Law Enforcement
- Public Safety
- First Responders
- Food and Agriculture
- Water and Wastewater
- Logistics and Transportation
- Infrastructure Support Services
- Public Works
- Information Technology
- Critical Manufacturing
- Other Government-based Operations
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of the U.S. government also termed the gun industry as “essential” services and recommended that workers employed in gun stores and gun manufacturing be considered as essential. DHS also suggests that workers or employees supporting firearm or ammunition-related services such as retailers, product manufacturers, distributors, importers, and ranges also be considered as essential.
Apart from guns, cannabis dispensaries are also considered essential across thirty-one states in the U.S., including Colorado and California. The other services that have been deemed to be essential in some states in the U.S. include liquor services and golf clubs. Golf has been termed as an ‘essential sport,’ and golf clubs are open in states such as Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Arizona.
In the U.K. and Singapore, governments have provided a list of ‘key workers’ and essential services that should remain open. These include healthcare and allied frontline coronavirus responders, education services, media, food industry, and other sectors related to public safety and security. The U.K. guidelines include a list of non-essential services that should be closed along with exceptions. For instance, restaurants, wine bars, cafes, canteens, public houses, and other food establishments located within clubs or hotels need to remain closed. However, food takeaway and delivery can remain operational.
Cafés and canteens that cater to police, care homes, schools, military, homeless, fire services, and hospitals, however, can function along with suitable measures to ensure social distancing and hygiene.
Supermarkets, food shops, medical services, bicycle shops, pharmacies, launderettes, post office, vehicle rental services, banks, and car garages are some services that are considered ‘essential’ in the U.K. (Gov.UK., 2020).
In Belgium, while cultural, sporting, gyms, bars, and schools have been closed, vendors of fried potatoes, which is Belgium’s national dish, can remain operational. These vendors can sell the fries; however, people have to eat them somewhere else after buying the fries. Bicycle shops and shops or cafes are considered essential in the Netherlands as well. (New York Post, 2020).
In Australia, there is a broad consensus that health services, supermarkets, banks, and service stations constitute essential services. Other essential functions are logistics, home delivery, and freight. The government is adding more and more activities and services to the non-essential list of services. These include pubs, licensed clubs, food courts, cafes, bars, personal care and beauty services, leisure, recreation, entertainment venues, galleries, libraries, and museums. (Business, 2020).
In New Zealand, a Level 4 Alert indicates workers not engaged in essential services have to stop all of their physical interactions with consumers or others outside their household and stay at home. The Health Act of 1956, Section 70(1) defines “essential businesses” as those that are directly essential for life as well as their support services. (“Essential businesses,” 2020).
While many governments have listed essential and non-essential services, this list is being constantly reviewed and updated in line with the prevalent situation.