WHU General

The Secret Erosion Of The Lockdown

New study shows that people's willingness to stick to the Corona restrictions is declining

Germany has so far considered itself to be on the right track in terms of reducing the reproduction rate of COVID-19. Not least, this was attributed to the discipline of the citizens during the lockdown, which was introduced on March, 23rd. A new study by Professor Dr. Marc Oliver Rieger from the University of Trier and Professor Dr. Mei Wang from WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management indicates otherwise: According to the study, citizens are increasingly going outside for various reasons, despite existing restrictions. They thereby, once more, increase the risk of infection in many places.

For their study "Secret Erosion of the “Lockdown”? Patterns in daily activities during the SARS-Cov2 pandemics around the world", Professor Rieger and Professor Wang used three different data bases: the Apple Maps Mobility Trends Report, the Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, and data from a worldwide online survey with more than 100,000 participants. The data from Apple and Google allow for inferences on changing motion patterns while the worldwide survey provides first-hand information about the motion behavior of citizens. Rieger and Wang focused their research on France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States in March and April – the period in which the lockdown was established in all the countries mentioned above with a slight delay, and the weeks that followed.

Simultaneously, in all countries a sharp decline in movement in public spaces was observed – whether driving, walking, or using public transportation – caused by the lockdown and the associated initial restrictions. Thus, the measures taken by governments initially were successful. 

However, if the figures are broken down to the countries, a different picture soon emerges for the weeks after the lockdown has been established. The study by Professor Rieger and Professor Wang concludes that since April, citizens have gradually increased their outdoor activities and have also expressed their intention to do so more strongly, even though the legal situation had not changed in the meantime. To go shopping or to take the dog out had already been permitted at the beginning of the lockdown. It is particularly surprising that in Germany the intention expressed per head to go shopping for groceries is significantly higher than in France, for example.

The results of the study imply that the discipline in keeping the lockdown erodes week after week. This effect needs to be considered for modelling the further development of the epidemics. There are significant differences between countries and regions in the motivation for leaving the house. Depending on this, different measures might be more efficient. The methodology used by Rieger and Wang can therefore be very useful for monitoring and adapting policies to keep the COVID-19 epidemics in control.