Pandemic lockdowns only work for a limited time, study finds

As the world struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19, many countries face the possibility of imposing more lockdown measures, like those widely used in the spring of 2020.

But how well do the locks work in keeping people home?

New research from associate professor of marketing Yogesh Joshi at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland reveals that they are effective, but for limited periods of time.

Joshi worked with Andres Musalem from the University of Chile on this research published in Scientific Reports by Nature. They looked at how well locks work in preventing people from leaving their homes and how mobility evolves during the duration of the lockdown.

Joshi and Musalem found that at the onset of lockdown mobility drops 36% below baseline. Mobility continues to decline for the first two weeks or so of a lockdown – by an additional 18%.

“If you compare before locking and minimum mobility during locking, mobility is halved about about two weeks after locking,” says Joshi.

But after two weeks, mobility starts to rise again, even when a country is still in containment. This relapse in mobility continues to occur. About a month after the onset of relapse, a third of the gain from the lockdown is lost. And it continues to slide.

“About four months after the lockdown begins, all effects of the lockdown are erased,” Joshi explains.

“What this research basically finds is that blockages are effective in reducing mobility and reducing it for a few weeks or so, but after that point mobility starts to go back up.”

That’s because people often can’t – or just don’t want to – stay home for that long, Joshi explains.

The research doesn’t explain why, but Joshi speculates that the reasons for this fatigue seen during the lockdown could include the fact that some people just need to get back to work, as well as restlessness.

Joshi and Musalem analyzed data from 93 countries. To measure mobility, they used data collected by Google from mobile device users who chose to share their location history. The data shows where a user is going and how much time is left. For comparison, the researchers used baseline user data from the first five weeks of 2020 – before the pandemic escalated and lockdowns were imposed.

The researchers also used data that detailed when the blocks were implemented, how restrictive they were, and how long they lasted. “We have found that blockages work, but their effect wears off over time,” says Joshi.

Before and after

Researchers also looked at how mobile a country’s population was before the lockdown, and whether that played a role in the effectiveness of lockdowns in keeping people at home. For countries that had already put strict restrictions in place to help control the spread of COVID, the lockdown itself has had a small effect by restricting mobility further.

“If you look at places that had low levels of mobility even before a lockdown was imposed, the implementation of stricter policies as well as higher levels of education were strong predictors. If you look instead at places where mobility is more limited after the lockdown is imposed, having less stringent policies in place before the lockdown and longer life expectancy were important predictors, ”Joshi said.

In countries where mobility levels were higher before the lockdown, people stayed home longer during lockdowns and lockdown fatigue was lower. And when the researchers found that a lockdown allowed for a greater reduction in mobility early on, they found the return to more mobile people a few weeks after the lockdown was higher.

“This indicates cumulative restlessness or locking fatigue,” says Joshi. “If there are higher levels of mobility before the lockdown, you see the rebound is weaker. If there has been a big drop in mobility because of the confinement, you see that the rebound is actually stronger. “

Going forward, the authors suggest that policymakers can use the research findings when considering imposing blockages.

“There is definitely a role for blockages,” says Joshi. “They have an impact. They definitely reduce mobility. But policymakers and policymakers need to recognize that the effects start to wane after a while and lockdown fatigue sets in. “

This means policymakers need to be creative and not just rely on blockages to keep people home for more than a few weeks, Joshi explains.

“A more important implication of this finding is that policymakers then probably need to start thinking about other things that can be done – things like incentives that would keep people at home, wage incentives, activities to fight. against lockdown fatigue – if they want people to stay home. “

Original study: blockages lose a third of their impact on mobility in a month, according to a new study


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