The COVID-19 pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge, with governments resorting to different legal strategies to respond to the health emergency. This article offers a cross-cuting comparative analysis of measures taken during the first six months of the pandemic (the “first wave”) in four European jurisdictions with significantly different constitutional settlements – namely France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. It explores the influence of specific constitutional features on the legal responses to the pandemic and how, in turn, these responses have the potential to reconfigure the institutional frameworks in place. The inquiry, which unfolds along the analytical categories of (i) legal basis, (ii) horizontal and (iii) vertical allocation of power, and (iv) the role of the judiciary, shows that both constitutional contexts and legal traditions play a significant role in pandemic times and are, moreover, likely to continue shaping post-pandemic governance patterns.