Article04 May 2019

Social Distancing Amid the Pandemic – May 4, 2020 Update

May 4, 2020 – Is there a way to gauge how much the COVID-19 pandemic is going to affect an individual economy? Conceptually, you could argue that economies experiencing tighter social distancing may also experience more negative shocks in their domestic sectors. Collecting that data across economies could provide some insights into the comparative degree of impact in different regions.

To gauge the degree of social distancing in a country, we summarize data on mobility provided by both Google and Apple for the week ending April 26, 2020. These reports provide people’s frequency of visits and length of stay at categorized places compared to a baseline of ‘normal’ from earlier this year.

Google Mobility Report

The Google COVID-19 Mobility Report provides people’s frequency of visits and length of stay at six categorized places compared to the baseline, which is the median value from January 3 to February 6 this year. We simply averaged the four factors: (1) Retail & Recreation; (2) Transit Stations; (3) Workplaces; and (4) Grocery & Pharmacy to compare the degree of social distancing across 78 economies. This is summarized in the Social Distancing Index. A lower (or higher) value of the index implies more (or less) social distancing.  Note, the low penetration rate of smartphones for some frontier EM economies suggests that the data may not be entirely reflective of those economies as a whole.

As of April 26, Latin America, Eurozone, Africa/Mideast and Emerging Market Europe were under tighter social distancing than Emerging Market Asia and the U.S. In particular, overall mobility of Peru, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Philippines, Colombia, Malaysia, Argentina, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and India contracted by more than 60%, compared to early this year. The economies under tighter social distancing may experience more negative shocks in the domestic sector than others. On the contrary, we see mild social distancing in South Korea, Poland, Taiwan, Sweden, Hong Kong and Germany.

On a week-over-week comparison, social distancing in the Global economy has slightly loosened . It was led by Poland, Israel, Vietnam, Germany, Egypt and South Korea. However, the mobility of Turkey, Slovakia, Peru, Italy and Japan declined by around 10 percentage points from a week ago.


We classify Retail & Recreation  and Grocery & Pharmacy as mobility for “play.” As of April 26, mobility for “play” remained limited in Peru, Italy, Spain, Turkey and Slovakia. They may have negative shocks to the demand side of their economies.


We categorize Workplaces and Transit Stations as mobility for “work.” As of April 26, we found that mobility for “work” was significantly curtailed in Peru, Turkey, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Philippines and Malaysia. They may have negative shocks to the supply side of their economies.


Apple Mobility Trends Report

Apple’s Mobility Trends Reports also show daily transit mobility of major economies and cities. Apple measures mobility compared to a baseline volume on January 13, 2020. We think that transit volumes of several regions have not meaningfully rebounded.

Social Distancing

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