Gender, class, ethnicity and generation played a determining role in exposure to the COVID-19 virus and in access to care. This translated into differences in communicability, morbidity and mortality. Migrants and ethnic minorities have been over-represented among serious cases, just as they are often also disproportionately affected during natural disasters and crises. We focus on a segment of vulnerable population defined by the French term ‘inconfinables’. Related to the term ‘confinement’, used in France to mean lockdown, the ‘inconfinables’ are those individuals that, due to personal, socio-economic and administrative factors, may not respect the governmental measures proposed to contain the spread of the pandemic. The article presents an comparative analysis of different approaches implemented at the domestic level (in France and Italy) to gain original insights into the practice of lockdown regimes. These insights are used to explore the nexus between ethnic social inequalities, governmental capacity to ensure effective protection of the whole population and human rights.