Do lockdowns wear off?
During the first lockdown in Austria, beginning on March 15, 2020 streets were empty. On average, people moved 70 percent less than usual, according to anonymized mobile phone data. During the summer, mobility was still 20 percent down compared to 2019.
The second nationawide lockdown, which started on Nov 17, 2020 still reduced mobility by around 60 percent.
Now, in the midst of the third hard lockdown—beginning at Christmas and reinforced yesterday by the mandatory use of FFP2 masks and two meter distancing (replacing the 1 meter “baby elephant”)—people move around almost as much as in the weeks before lockdown 3 started.
Table 1: Mobility reduction in Austria
Movement patterns changed from lockdown to lockdown
While the reduction was as high as minus 57 to minus 80 percent during lockdown 1, and was still between minus 30 and minus 50 percent in lockdown 2, the mobilty reducing effect clearly wore off in the last, the current, lockdown. People reduced their mobility between 12 and 42 percent compared to the weeks before lockdown 3 took effect, depending on the state.
Peter and Georg found strong differences between regions: The highest mobility can be seen in the West (namely in the states Vorarlberg, Tirol, and Salzburg), the lowest in the East (Burgenland, Lower Austria, and Vienna).
While lockdown 3 continues, mobility rises from week to week. For now, data show little difference to December 2020 before the onset of lockdown 3. In the southern state Carinthia, mobility is currently only 4 percent lower than in December, in Burgenland and Vienna it is 16 percent lower.
“Tired of the pandemic”
Of course a rise in mobility does not automatically translates to people meeting other people that don’t belong to their own household (which is restricted at the moment). Many people in the mountains for instance may take their car to go skiing.
Yet, it is highly unlikely that all the movement ends up in remote places and without encounters. “When mobility patterns don’t change, I dare say a lot of people don’t obey the current lockdown rules, be it out of economic or psychological reasons,” says Peter. Meeting others elevates the risk of being infected with, or spreading the virus and its more infectious mutations, respectively.
“Findings like this are a wake-up call,” says the complexity scientist. “People are tired of the everlasting lockdowns, many can’t cope anymore. We urgently need to find other ways than lockdowns to tackle the pandemic, especially as vaccination effects won’t be visible for many months, at the least.”
These “other” ways to hinder the virus from spreading include well-known measures, such as the consequent use of high quality face masks, or (a more efficiently done) testing & tracing. Yet, these measures have to be systematically scaled-up and implemented in an intelligent way.
The case for a Pan-European strategy
This could be achieved by a pan-European corona strategy, says Peter, referring to an initiative he is part of. The group of of Euroepan corona experts call to “Contain COVID-19 – A joint statement of scientists for all across Europe”
The [German] Policy Brief, titled “Von Lockdown zu Lockdown: Über die Entwicklung der Mobilitätssreduktion in Österreichs Bundesländern”, can be found here.
Correction Jan 27: An earlier version of this text wrongly compared the mobility reduction in lockdown 3 with mobility patterns in January 2020 instead of comparing it to the time before the start of lockdown 3.
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