The coronavirus situation in the UK is much more widespread now than it was in March, when the country was closed for the first time. When UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the country’s first shutdown on March 23, 2020, there were 967 new cases. Even in the following two months, the highest daily reading of new cases was 6,201. When Johnson again addressed the nation about a new lockdown, on January 4, 2021, there were 58,784 cases.
This is clearly seen in the mobility data. In the days after the close on March 23, mobile phone traffic around workplaces fell as much as 70%, according to Google. In the days after the close on January 4, mobile phone activity at workplaces dropped by 50% from normal levels. Car use, up 23% of normal levels after the March close, was 56% of normal levels on Monday, according to the UK Department for Transport. On the London Underground, activity was 16% of normal levels, which doesn’t seem like much except compared to usage of roughly 5% after the close of March. Andrew Goodwin, chief economist at Oxford Economics in the UK, said the current rules are in many cases weaker now than they used to be. The housing market, for example, can now operate practically normally, whereas it was closed last year. “Plus, companies have become much more adaptable,” Goodwin said. “Last March, many companies in sectors such as manufacturing and construction closed, in part because the government’s messages about what was and was not allowed were not very clear and they took a cautious approach. But this time they have been able to demonstrate that they comply with the government’s COVID safety rules and, because their workers cannot work from home, many have remained open. ” The UK government definition of a key worker has changed, which is significant because those workers are allowed to take their children to school. Some schools have up to 50% of their classrooms full, according to UK press reports.
A construction worker uses a shovel to remove mud from the tracks of a vehicle as work continues near Ashford in Kent, southeast England, on December 17, 2020. ben stansall / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images
David Owen, a European economist at Jefferies, echoed that view that change in mobility is a function of different rules and not weak adherence to them. “There seems to be quite a bit of adherence to the rules,” he said. “Where I live in South West London, there are not many people around. People seem to be much more concerned about being around other people. “There is hope on the horizon as the UK is leading so far, except for a handful of countries, in vaccination.” what they don’t want to do in the next few weeks [while waiting to get vaccinated] it’s really catching the thing, ”Owen said. This increased activity should mean that the UK economy will be stronger than in April 2020. Deutsche Bank forecasts a 1.4% drop in UK gross domestic product in the first quarter, which is not as steep as the 19.8% drop in Q2 2020, although that’s off a base that is roughly 7% lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic.