Social Distancing Amid the Pandemic – July 10 Update

Is there a way to gauge how much the COVID-19 pandemic is going to affect an individual economy? Conceptually, you could argue that economies experiencing tighter social distancing may also experience more negative shocks in their domestic sectors. Collecting that data across economies could provide some insights into the comparative degree of impact in different regions.

To gauge the degree of social distancing in a country, we summarize data on mobility provided by both Google and Apple. These reports provide people’s frequency of visits and length of stay at categorized places compared to a baseline of ‘normal’ from earlier this year.

The Google COVID-19 Mobility Report provides people’s frequency of visits and length of stay at six categorized places compared to the baseline, which is the median value from January 3 to February 6 this year. We simply averaged the four factors: (1) Retail & Recreation; (2) Transit Stations; (3) Workplaces, and (4) Grocery & Pharmacy to compare the degree of social distancing across 78 economies. This is summarized in the Social Distancing Index. A lower (or higher) value of the index implies more (or less) social distancing. This project is conducted in collaboration with Citi’s Innovation Lab. Meanwhile, there’s a caveat for the data. The low penetration rate of smartphones for some frontier EM economies suggests that the data may not be entirely reflective of those economies as a whole.

As of July 10, mobility (seven-day moving average) of Peru, Argentina, Philippines, Colombia, the U.K., India, Mexico and South Africa contracted more than 28%, compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. By sector, mobility in ‘grocery & pharmacy (-2%)’ normalized, while social distancing continued in ‘retail & recreations (-19%)’, ‘workplaces (-25%)’ and ‘transit stations (-28%).

On a week-over-week comparison, social distancing (seven-day moving average) in the global economy shifted to tightening for the first time since mid-April as overall mobility reduced by 1 percentage point (ppt) to -19% . It was mainly driven by a sharp contraction of mobility in the U.S. (-4ppt) amid a continuing surge in new cases and high test positivity rates. Social distancing in Czech Republic, Sweden, Israel, Argentina, South Africa, Japan, and Australia also tightened. Australia recently imposed a regional hard lockdown in the greater Melbourne area. By sector, mobility in ‘retail & recreations’, ‘grocery & pharmacy’ and ‘work place’ fell marginally from a week ago.