The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged nations states across the world. They have implemented lockdown and social distancing and with the development of vaccines have gone to great lengths to build herd immunity for their populations. As place managers, local government has played a variety of roles supporting central government edicts related to social distancing and supporting local businesses impacted by lockdowns. The research reported here comparing the role local government has played in Australia, Canada, Italy, and New Zealand shows that they have at different times and for different issues been policy takers from central government, policy shapers, and policy makers adapting national strategies. Local government plays an important complementary role with central governments in both unitary and federal systems of government. The paper contributes to the literature on multi-level governance, place-based decision-making, and disaster and emergency management by offering a framework for analysing municipal roles in crises management both in their relationship with higher layers of government and in their acting as locally placed organisations. Points for practitioners: Cross-national study: Australia, Canada, Italy, and New Zealand. Examination of local government responses to COVID-19 pandemic as policy makers, takers, or shapers. Comparison of federal and unitary states.