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US localities that stayed open saw just about as much reduction in public movement as those with curbs, a study shows.  (Photo: Reuters)
US localities that stayed open saw just about as much reduction in public movement as those with curbs, a study shows. (Photo: Reuters)

Virus fears kept more at home than lockdown did

A US study finds that areas that stayed open saw just about as much reduction in public movement as those with lockdown orders

Lockdowns are being lifted the world over in the hope of limiting potentially grave economic consequences. But this could also mean people are even more cautious than before about stepping out, given the continuing threat of the virus. As a new research paper says Americans during the lockdown were more likely to have stayed home because of fear rather than stay-at-home orders.

In a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, two economists from the University of Chicago use data on footfall at around 2.25 million businesses across the US as a proxy for economic activity. These businesses were in locations with varying restrictions on movement. The data was gathered through customers’ mobile phone records between 1 March and 16 May.

Consumer visits fell by 60% during the study period, compared to before the lockdown, but of that, only 7% can be explained by legal restrictions on movement, the paper finds. The decline in footfall in areas with stay-at-home orders was not significantly higher than in other areas, the authors say.

The paper also finds that the decline in consumer visits is also driven by rising covid-19 deaths. Half of the decline in footfall was found to be in response to local deaths.

The fear of infection had a greater impact on larger establishments, whose footfall fell 70%, as against 45% for smaller businesses, the study finds. This could be explained by people avoiding locations where the risk of exposure to infection is higher.

Meanwhile, the paper also finds a significant consumer shift from non-essential businesses such as bars and restaurants to essential ones such as groceries. The analysis shows that the recovery of economic activity was modest even when states lifted lockdown orders.

Also read: Fear, Lockdown, And Diversion: Comparing Drivers Of Pandemic Economic Decline 2020

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