Alexander Ahammer, Martin Halla, Mario Lackner, 06 August 2020

Social distancing is important to slow the community spread of COVID-19. This column studies the banning of mass gatherings, a comparably low-cost intervention. Exploiting exogenous variation in top-flight basketball and ice hockey games in the US, which arise due to the leagues' predetermined schedules, and the suspension of the 2019-20 seasons, it estimates the impact of indoor mass gatherings on COVID-19 mortality in affected US counties. The findings suggest that one additional mass gathering increased the cumulative number of COVID-19 deaths in affected counties by 9%.

Olivier Marie, Judit Vall Castello, 28 July 2020

Many governments increased temporary sick-leave benefits in the wake of COVID-19, but the benefits are due to expire after a certain time. This column looks back at a 2012 policy change in Spain which radically altered the generosity of paid sick leave available to public-sector employees. Following the change, the number of sick leaves taken by public-sector workers dropped 29% but the likelihood of relapses increased, with most of it driven by infectious disease relapses. Policymakers need to manage changes in sick-leave generosity, especially in the face of persistent or recurring infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

Michèle Belot, Syngjoo Choi, Egon Tripodi, Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, Julian C. Jamison, Nicholas W. Papageorge, 24 July 2020

Almost all countries in the world have implemented drastic measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. This column documents the effects of the epidemic and containment measures using representative individual data on age and income from three Western and three Asian countries. Younger groups in all countries have been affected more, both economically and non-economically. Differences across income groups are less clear and less consistent across countries. The young are less compliant and supportive of the containment measures, no matter how hard they have been affected by them.

Dimitris Papanikolaou, Lawrence D.W. Schmidt, 23 July 2020

COVID-19 has massively disrupted the supply side of the world economy, shutting down entire industries. This column analyses how these disruptions affected different types of firms and workers by looking at how effectively different sectors can shift to remote work. While the major policy interventions in the US have treated all types of business as equivalent, industries which are not able to do their work remotely have been hit much harder than business that can. This cross-sectional dispersion shows up across a variety of measures, including changes in employment, revenue projections, likelihood of default, current liquidity, and stock returns. Going forward, aid that targets disrupted sectors may be a more cost-effective means to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19.

Victor Chernozhukov, Hiro Kasahara, Paul Schrimpf, 15 July 2020

Faced with COVID-19, people rationally and voluntarily respond to information on risks, making it difficult to distinguish the effect of containment policies from that of voluntary behavioural responses. This column examines the effect of mandatory mask policies on COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US. If the US had on 1 April 2020 universally mandated that employees of public-facing businesses use masks, there could have been nearly 40% fewer deaths by the start of June. Containment policies had a large impact on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, directly by reducing transmission rates and indirectly by constraining people’s behaviour, and account for roughly half the observed change in the growth rates of cases and deaths.

Christos Makridis, Jonathan Rothwell, 10 July 2020

There is significant dispersion in beliefs about the pandemic and its economic implications. This column uses new high-frequency and nationally representative data to document the overwhelming importance of political affiliation as a determinant of these beliefs and the adverse effects of partisanship on local economic activity. In the US, Republicans are significantly less worried about COVID-19 and less likely to expect a long-term disruption due to the virus. These results suggest that the macroeconomic effects of the pandemic on consumption may depend on behavioural factors, like political affiliation.

Paolo Falco, Sarah Zaccagni, 09 July 2020

Reminders to encourage social distancing have been used widely by the authorities around the world during the crisis. Based on a randomised controlled trial conducted in Denmark, this column shows what types of messages are most (and least) effective in convincing people to stay home. People’s good intentions often do not translate into the desired actions. Reminders significantly increase compliance with social distancing among people in poor health who face the greatest risks.

Jean-Pierre Dube, Andrey Simonov, Szymon Sacher, Shirsho Biswas, 06 July 2020

US televised news networks offer strikingly different coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, the exposure risks, and the benefits of social distancing measures recommended by health experts. This column devises an empirical strategy to test for a causal effect of news viewership on compliance with social distancing. It finds a large effect of local Fox News viewership on local compliance, with a persuasion rate of up to 26%. These findings reinforce concerns about the media’s role in sowing distrust in scientific evidence in the determination of public policies.  

Stefan Pollinger, 05 July 2020

Despite diverse and considerable efforts, the pandemic is keeping the world in a state of apprehension and discord. This column argues that eradicating Covid-19 is possible through a combination of case detection and social distancing, which would allow the pandemic to be eliminated at low additional economic and health costs. A simple function of observables, the optimal policy is easily implementable, but it raises important privacy concerns. The time to have a serious political discussion about these concerns has come.

Caitlin Brown, Martin Ravallion, Dominique van de Walle, 27 June 2020

Recommendations to limit the spread of COVID-19 call for social distancing, washing, and access to information and treatment. However, people need to be in household environments that allow them to follow those recommendations. This column examines the relationship between poverty and the adequacy of the home environment. There is a strong wealth effect both within and between countries, where the poor are less likely to have the kind of dwellings and infrastructure to follow WHO recommendations. Complementary policies to address such inadequate home environments are needed.

Toshihiro Okubo, 25 June 2020

The Japanese government’s policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic was to ask people to refrain from leaving their homes and to encourage teleworking. This column examines the effect of COVID-19 on the uptake of teleworking in a country that has the lowest use among developed countries. Overall, teleworking increased about 4 percentage points from January to March 2020, driven by industries and occupations related to information and located in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Teleworking is not suited to face-to-face services and manual labour, which saw substantial declines in worker incomes.

Timo Mitze, Reinhold Kosfeld, Johannes Rode, Klaus Wälde, 22 June 2020

Confronted with a novel, aggressive coronavirus, Germany implemented measures to reduce its spread since March 2020. Requiring people to wear face masks in public places has, however, been a subject of controversy and isolating the effect of mask-wearing on the spread of COVID-19 is not simple. This column looks at the town of Jena and other German regions that introduced face masks before the rest of the country to see whether the requirement makes a difference in the number of new COVID-19 cases. Requiring face masks to be worn decreases the growth rate of COVID-19 cases by about 40% in Germany.

Alina Kristin Bartscher, Sebastian Seitz, Sebastian Siegloch, Michaela Slotwinski, Nils Wehrhöfer, 18 June 2020

In the absence of viable medical responses to combat the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, policymakers have appealed to the social responsibility of their citizens to comply with social distancing rules. This column explores how regional differences in social capital can affect the spread of Covid-19, focusing on seven European countries. The results suggest that areas with high social capital registered between 12% and 32% fewer Covid-19 cases from mid-March until mid-May. A case study of Italy validates the independent role of social capital, showing a consistent reduction in excess deaths and documenting a reduction in mobility prior to the lockdown as a mediating channel.

Paola Giuliano, Imran Rasul, 18 June 2020

If social distancing is crucial to slow the spread of Covid-19, it is important to know what determines whether individuals will effectively adopt the practice. This column draws on real time data collected across many different countries to document important drivers of compliance with social distancing. These drivers are found to vary with social capital, trust in government and political beliefs.

Juan C. Palomino, Juan Gabriel Rodríguez, Raquel Sebastian, 16 June 2020

Enforced social distancing and lockdown measures to contain COVID-19 restrict economic activity, especially among workers in non-essential jobs who cannot ‘telework’. These have implications for inequality and poverty. This column analyses the capacity of individuals in 29 European countries to work under lockdown and the potential impact of a two-month lockdown on wages and inequality levels. There will be substantial and uneven wage losses across the board and poverty will rise. Inequality within countries will worsen, as it will between countries although to a lesser extent.

Martin Bodenstein, Giancarlo Corsetti, Luca Guerrieri, 12 June 2020

Drastic public health measures such as social distancing or lockdowns can reduce the loss of human life by keeping the number of infected individuals from exceeding the capacity of the health care system, but they are often criticised because of the social and the economic cost they entail. This column shows that the high peak of an infection not mitigated by social distancing may cause very large upfront economic costs in terms of output, consumption and investment that are amplified by supply disruptions as workers in essential industries become ill. Social distancing measures can reduce these costs, especially if skewed towards non-essential industries and occupations with tasks that can be performed from home, helping to smooth the surge in infections among workers in the essential sector.

Adam Brzezinski, Valentin Kecht, David Van Dijcke, 12 June 2020

Lockdown policies have been found to be effective in promoting social distancing and slowing down the spread of COVID-19. Yet, such measures are often blamed for downturns in the economy. This column argues that the lockdowns in the US are in fact efficient in minimising the costs of the epidemic, once both the economic and medical burden that would arise in the absence of such policies are considered. Estimates from a controlled SIR model, which includes the possibility for changes in behaviour, suggest that lockdowns reduce the costs of the pandemic by at least 1.7% of annual GDP compared to a no-lockdown scenario.

Ajay Shenoy, 11 June 2020

Even as governments relax their lockdowns, they are considering how quickly to re-impose social distancing in response to a possible new outbreak. This column studies the impact of rainfall-induced social distancing in the days prior to official lockdown. A rainy weekend just prior to lockdown causes people to start staying home sooner, which has persistent impacts on the trajectory of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The impact is largely due to a reduction in the risk of a very big outbreak. Imposing social distancing only a few days sooner may thus help better control the epidemic.

M. Aykut Attar, Ayça Tekin-Koru, 11 June 2020

As governments begin to ease lockdown measures over the coming months, understanding how effectively countries have applied social distancing practices will be essential. This column introduces a Model-Inferred measure of latent social DIStancing (MIDIS) and calculates the measure for 44 countries using daily data and an epidemiology model. Mobility data from Apple and Google indicate that the measure can accurately measure distancing, and the measure also reflects governmental and behavioural responses while maintaining a robust relationship with daily output losses.

Francesca Borgonovi, Elodie Andrieu, 10 June 2020

Reducing social contacts can slow the spread of COVID-19. This column examines mobility patterns across US counties between mid-February and mid-May 2020. It finds that reductions in mobility differed across counties, and that community-level social capital can explain the geographic variations in mobility trends. Individuals reduced mobility earlier and to a higher degree in counties with high levels of social capital. Many counties, particularly in the Southeast US, may be especially vulnerable to COVID-19, matching low levels of social capital with high rates of chronic disease.

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