What does the Mobility Report teach us about lockdown and non-lockdown countries?
A healthy economy affects the health of society in many aspects. Countries have recognized that they must balance between health costs and socioeconomic costs when deciding how to handle the pandemic crisis. Lockdown, which obviously curtails freedom of movement, puts the economy in danger. Has locking down, which cuts the chain of infection for its duration, proven too costly in other ways? The Mobility Report provides a means for partially examining this question.
The Mobility Report demonstrates individual movement within countries (and American states and Canadian provinces) since February 2020. We can see what happens under both lockdown and no-lockdown conditions.
Google has a wonderful website on which you can find some stats related to COVID-19 for your own country (or for your state or province). One of the features of this site is the Mobility Report that appears at the bottom of each page. Here is the page for Israel.
People still generally prefer to shop in person rather than online. Huge numbers traditionally use public transportation to go to work or places of entertainment. Having to work from home and closure of shops and places of entertainment means that, along with shops and entertainment venues, public transportion is going to take a hit under conditions of lockdown, and that compounds the harm to the economy resulting from the closures.
Let us see what the mobility reports teach us for Israel, which twice locked down, and Sweden, South Korea and Japan, which did not or which had localized short closures rather than nationwide; you can refer to my detailed report on the approaches to fighting the pandemic on the parts of these latter three countries.
First let me explain what the Mobility Report graphs present. There are six categories assessed:
- Retail and recreation: Mobility trends for places like restaurants,cafes, shopping centers, theme parks,museums, libraries, and movie theaters.
- Grocery and pharmacy: Trends for places like supermarkets, small grocers, food warehouses, farmers markets, specialty food shops, and pharmacies.
- Parks: Refers to national parks, public beaches, marinas, dog parks, plazas,and public gardens.
- Transit stations: Mobility trends for places like public transport hubs such as subway, bus, and train stations.
- Places of Work: Mobility trends for places of work outside the home.
- Residential: Staying at home.
The following charts show the Mobility Reports for these six categories from February to October 2020. We can clearly see the impact of the lockdowns (March-April and September-October) on activity in Israel, however, outside of the lockdowns, citizen behaviours are very similar in all four countries for most of the categories. Click on each graph to open it on the website if you want to play around and compare different countries than these.
The mobility report for this category demonstrates the impact of the Israeli lockdowns on visits to grocery stores and pharmacies even though these are permitted during the lockdown. Before the first lockdown, Israelis visited grocery stores and pharmacies far more than normal, perhaps in fear and a sense that they needed to stock up on toilet paper, medicines and other merchandise. In the other countries, there are inconsistent ups and downs around the baseline; South Korea stands out with its increased activity in this category across the entire time period. I wonder why that is because there is no similar trend for other forms of retail shopping or restaurant visits.
There is not a great difference between Israel and the other two non-lockdown countries, Japan and South Korea. Sweden stands out for the large increase in visits to parks and other outdoor spaces. This is perhaps not surprising given that it is part of Swedish tradition spend the summer hiking and vacationing in the wide open spaces of the northern part of the country.
While the range shows wide variation in degree, there is very little difference in trend directions among the four countries before September regarding their use of public transportation in spite of Israel having been on lockdown in contrast with the other countries.
All three non-lockdown countries complied with work-from-home recommendations. The similarity in ups and downs with Israel is, perhaps, surprising. When Israel was not in lockdown, its curve is indistinguishable from the others.
We can clearly see when Israelis were at home for the lockdown but we can also see that the Japanese, Swedes and South Koreans spent relatively more time in their homes than they did before the pandemic.
This reduced mobility among all four countries shows that even the non-lockdown countries suffered economically since the onset of the pandemic. People stayed at home or closer to home and less frequently spent money in retail and recreation activities, and on public transportation, leading to the contraction of the gross domestic product noted for all them. The degree of contraction is different for all countries, but they all did suffer. People generally stayed home even if not ordered to. Therefore, the general impression given in the media and on social media that people are out and about, eating at restaurants and more, is not a totally accurate picture of what is really happening.
Out of curiousity, I decided to compare each country across each of the six categories using bar graphs found on the Google News site. The categories retail/entertainment and transit were very similar and almost redundant. Residential graphs were largely mirror images of the retail/entertainment graphs. Since there is a big difference in essence between retail/entertainment and grocery/pharmacy visits, the latter being essential and the former largely not, I thought it would be instructive to compare graphs for these two categories for the four countries in my previous article plus France, that, like Israel, is not doing well, plus those of some other countries heralded as role models in the fight against the pandemic — Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia — and two of the least successful American states and two of the most successful — Arizona and Georgia versus Alaska and West Virgina, respectively.
Mobility Reports for Retail/Entertainment
If this image is too small to read comfortably, you can open it on my flickr account. Note that axes on the left differ in range for some countries and, therefore, degree of change is not exactly comparable without modification of the graphs. Trends, however, are clearly visible.
Mobility Report for Grocery/Pharmacy Visits
If this image is too small to comfortably read, you can open it on my flickr account. Note that axes on the left differ in range for some countries and, therefore, degree of change is not exactly comparable without modification of the graphs. Trends, however, are clearly visible.
We can see that citizen behaviours are more similar than different when comparing countries more successfully and less successfully fighting the pandemic for both retail/entertainment and grocery/pharmacy categories. There are differences in the two categories where there is a deeper reduction in visits to retail/entertainment venues that are not essential services in nature as opposed to visits hovering more or less around the pre-pandemic baseline for grocery/pharmacy visits that are essential.
Some countries show a pre-lockdown surge in visits as they anticipated not being able to freely leave home and prefered to stock up on certain items beforehand.Social media memes about stocking up on toilet paper was not just a joke.
It is unclear why certain successful countries and states (South Korea, Taiwan, Vietname, Alaska, West Virginia) show grocery-pharmacy visits greater than the baseline level after an initial drop, and only Alaska shows retail/entertainment visits higher than the baseline after an initial drop. Is there a psychological aspect to this behaviour? These trends need to be compared with dates of policy changes instituted by their leadership and, of course, more localized data may show that the trend is not generalizable to an entire country but only parts of if.
A Final Word
Overall, it appears that the changes in domestic economic activity, as demonstrated in these Mobility Reports, show that the Coronavirus pandemic has a clearly negative effect on national domestic product regardless of having imposed a lockdown or not. People are losing their jobs, small businesses are going bancrupt, people are going into debt, and export firms are suffering no less with all the repurcussions that implies. More than lockdowns being blamable for the economic woes, it appears that regardless of what governments do to fight the virus, it is the pandemic, itself, that is the cause.
Given this, it is imperative that citizens and their leadership do not regard each other as foes but rather as allies in finding the best way to cope with a situation that is dangerous to all, to physical, psychological and economic health. If those in countries doing poorly so far, recognize that even those in more successful countries are suffering economically, perhaps they can be a little less combative toward their own governments and seek positive change at local levels.