How far do governments have to go in restricting the movements of its citizens to combat COVID-19? This is an important question, because right now the most complete data set on how quickly it can be contained (or something close) come from China.
To compare the efficacy of China’s measures to those in other cities around the world, let’s start with current data through today from TomTom’s local traffic congestion readings for Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak (red line is current, blue line is 2019 average road congestion):
That’s our benchmark: extremely low levels of traffic congestion, some 80-95% below normal levels.
Next, let’s look at 2 major Italian cities: Milan (near the center of the country’s outbreak) and Rome (capital city):
What we see: rather than traffic congestion being down +90% from normal, in Milan and Rome over the last 2 days it is only averaging 60% below average 2019 levels. A meaningful reduction, to be sure, but nothing like Wuhan.
Now, here are 3 European capital cities to consider:
What we see: a small decline in Paris versus the end of last week, but none in Berlin or London. Not good…
Finally, 3 US cities with large numbers of COVID-19 cases:
What we see: work-from-home is clearly having an impact this week as compared to late last week, especially in NY and San Francisco. None, however, look anything like Wuhan.
Takeaway from these comparisons: authoritarian China was able to curtail human activity in ways western countries have thus far not come close to replicating. It is too early to say if that difference will yield materially different trajectories for the spread of COVID-19. There are many other factors to consider, after all, ranging from environment to public awareness and personal actions. Still, the data here shows what western countries may have to consider if their slower actions thus far fail to contain the virus.