Matthew Spiegel, Heather E. Tookes, 07 December 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues worldwide, policymakers are still grappling with the question of which non-pharmaceutical policy interventions are effective. In the US, state and county policies varied widely, as did the growth in fatalities due to COVID-19. This column examines US business policies to help shed light on which policies save more lives. Stay-at-home orders, mandatory mask requirements, beach and park closures, restaurant closures, and high-risk (Level 2) business closures most consistently predict lower fatality growth four to six weeks ahead. Closures of low- and medium-risk businesses do not appear effective and, despite their costs, may even be counterproductive.

Francesca Caselli, Francesco Grigoli, Weicheng Lian, Damiano Sandri, 16 November 2020

Non-pharmaceutical interventions remain key to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This column examines the impact of lockdowns on mobility in a large number of countries during the first seven months of the pandemic. Both lockdowns and voluntary social distancing helped contain the first wave of COVID-19. In particular, stringent and rapidly adopted lockdowns significantly slowed the spread of the virus. Despite their short-term economic costs, early and tight lockdowns may pave the way to a faster recovery.

Vincenzo Galasso, Vincent Pons, Paola Profeta, 07 November 2020

The efficacy of government lockdown measures to contain COVID-19 hinges on people’s willingness to comply. It is critical to identify and convince those who are the least compliant. This column surveyed over 21,000 respondents in eight OECD countries, in March and April 2020, on beliefs about COVID-19 and containment measures and their level of compliance with the measures. Men and women differ strikingly in both beliefs and behaviours, with women are more likely to take the pandemic seriously and more compliant than men. The findings suggest that public health communication should target men and women differently.

Alexander Karaivanov, Shih En Lu, Hitoshi Shigeoka, 09 October 2020

The mandatory wearing of face masks remains a contentious policy issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. This column evaluates the impact of mask mandates on the spread of COVID-19 in Canada, using the different timings that masks were mandated across the 34 health districts of the province of Ontario. Mask mandates are associated with a 25% or larger weekly reduction in new COVID-19 cases in July and August, relative to the absence of mandates. Requiring indoor masks nationwide in early July could have reduced new COVID-19 cases in Canada by 25%–40% in mid-August, which translates into between 700 and 1,100 fewer cases per week.

Nicholas W. Papageorge, Matthew Zahn, Michèle Belot, Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, Syngjoo Choi, Julian C. Jamison, Egon Tripodi, 05 September 2020

Individual behaviours affect the spread of infectious disease. This column examines factors that predict individual behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic in the US using novel survey data. People with lower income and less flexible work arrangements are less likely to engage in behaviours that limit the spread of disease. The burden of measures to stem the pandemic is unevenly distributed across socio-demographic groups in ways that affect behaviour and potentially the spread of illness. Policies that assume otherwise are unlikely to be effective or sustainable.

Sam Cosaert, Alexandros Theloudis, Bertrand Verheyden, 28 August 2020

COVID-19 lockdowns and school closures have affected working hours and household income, with an unequal effect on women and men. The collective model of the household has hitherto ignored distinctions between private versus joint activities by parents in household time allocation. This column examines the evolving costs and benefits of togetherness, using Dutch data for 2009–2012, and speculates on how lockdown policies may affect togetherness and household welfare. Joint leisure and childcare generate a loss of flexibility in the labour market, and joint childcare prevents specialisation, generating tension between parental childcare quality and quantity.

Michael Gapen, Jonathan Millar, Blerina Uruçi, Pooja Sriram, 14 August 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, US policymakers must consider containment measures while weighing adverse health outcomes against forgone economic activity. This column uses panel data to evaluate alternative strategies to keep COVID-19 in check. Viable options to keep new case counts on a downward trajectory without economically costly shutdowns include more testing (at least 1.8 million per day for the US, used in isolation) and either mask requirements or indoor-dining restrictions. The US is nowhere near the point where herd immunity alone can control infections.

Caitlin Brown, Martin Ravallion, 10 August 2020

Income is linked to COVID-19 risk factors: poorer people are less likely to be able to socially distance or telework. However, higher-income areas tend to have more in-person interactions. This column disentangles the socioeconomic influences on COVID-19 behaviour and outcomes across the 3,000 counties of the US. Counties with higher overall income inequality tend to have higher infection rates. A higher population share of Black Americans and Hispanics is associated with higher infection rates. These effects do not fade over time from the first infection.

Yinon Bar-On, Ofer Cornfeld, Tatiana Baron, Ron Milo, Eran Yashiv, 04 July 2020

Rapidly expanding research on COVID-19 in economics typically posits an economy subject to a model of epidemiological dynamics. This column shows that there are often serious misspecifications of the model, which erroneously assume a relatively slow-moving disease, thereby distorting the policy decisions towards less severe, delayed interventions. Moreover, the scale of the disease is underestimated.

Benjamin Born, Alexander Dietrich, Gernot Müller, 31 July 2020

Sweden stands out from its European peers as the only country that did not impose a lockdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This column uses this peer group to construct a synthetic control unit to approximate a counterfactual lockdown scenario for Sweden lasting from March 18 to May 17. The results suggest the lockdown would have reduced the number of COVID-19 infections by a half and deaths by a third.

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.

Chryssi Giannitsarou, Flavio Toxvaerd, 12 July 2020

We do not yet know whether individuals who recover from COVID-19 can be reinfected. If immunity wanes, the disease will become endemic, in sharp contrast to a model in which recovery confers permanent immunity. This column considers the possibility that immunity is indeed only temporary, and derives a stylised optimal containment policy to reduce the initial wave of contagion and then manage persistent infections. In practice, this means that partial lockdowns and social distancing measures may be the norm for years to come. 

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.

Luan Borelli, Geraldo Goes, 01 July 2020

Brazil has faced great difficulties in controlling the COVID-19 epidemic, having become the world’s epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic and recently reaching 50,000 fatalities. This column argues that the great heterogeneities between states in Brazil, together with difficulties in political coordination, may have shaped these consequences. Looking at five states, it investigates whether certain differences in the states’ intrinsic characteristics may have influenced the dynamics of the local epidemic. Governments may need to consider local conditions and adopt heterogeneous containment policies.

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.

Pragyan Deb, Davide Furceri, Jonathan D. Ostry, Nour Tawk, 17 June 2020

Containment measures to halt the spread of the 2019 coronavirus pandemic entail large short-term economic costs. This column attempts to quantify these effects using daily global data on real-time containment measures and daily indicators of economic activity. Over a 30-day period from implementation, containment measures have, on average, led to a loss of about 15% in industrial production. Macroeconomic policy measures have however mitigated some of these economic costs. Stay-at-home requirements and workplace closures are most effective in curbing both infections and deaths but are also associated with the largest economic costs.



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