The coronavirus has now infected more than a million people worldwide, but its impact extends far beyond those who have already been infected.
Even the frequency of use of the word “unprecedented” is unprecedented at the moment. According to Google Trends, it has been used three times more in the past two weeks than the highest point recorded previously.
As governments around the world have adopted new measures and given formal advice, we are examining the impact this has had on people and the world around them.
How the world stopped
The approaches to fighting coronaviruses around the world are diverse to say the least.
In Colombia, the days you are allowed to leave home depend on the number of your national identity card; in Serbia, a designated time for dog walking has been introduced; and in Belarus, the president opposed medical advice, recommending vodka and saunas as a way to stay safe.
Some of the most common approaches have seen governments issue recommendations on social displacement for part or all of the country, while others have acted to restrict all non-essential internal movements. The latter is often called locking.
When the virus was first identified in China in late 2019, the lockdown seemed extreme.
But as the epidemic spread around the world, it became more difficult to manage. More and more countries have chosen to take the strictest measures possible to contain it.
More than 100 countries around the world had implemented a total or partial lockdown by the end of March 2020, affecting billions of people.
And many others had recommended restricting the movement of some or all of their citizens.
In regions that have only recently confirmed their first cases of coronavirus, countries seem to learn from their Asian and European counterparts.
Governments also seem to act faster and more strictly in Africa.
China has succeeded in easing restrictions after going through the worst escalation of cases and deaths, but life is still far from normal.
The rest of us may have a long way to go.
Risk of theft
When the virus first appeared, several countries imposed initial restrictions on flights from China or required that visitors to high-risk areas be quarantined upon arrival.
After being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, more comprehensive measures have been taken.
On March 15, President Trump blocked all unnecessary arrivals to the United States from the European Union, and a day later, the EU did the same for all visitors outside the free zone -Schengen circulation.
By the end of March, air traffic from some of the world’s largest airports had fallen to a fraction of what it was at the same time last year, or even what it was at the start of this month.
The number of commercial flights last month fell by more than a quarter worldwide, according to Flight Tracking Service Flightradar24.
In the last week of March, as more and more countries introduced travel restrictions to try to contain the virus, traffic fell 63% from the same period last year.
On March 25, Heathrow – one of the busiest airports in the world serving approximately 80 million passengers a year – recorded more than 1,000 fewer flights compared to an equivalent day in 2019.
It’s not just going from city to city. Travel in major cities around the world has stalled with restrictions on travel and social contact.
As of March 31, residents of cities like Madrid, Paris, London and New York were making less than a tenth of the number of trips using the app as usual, according to data from the Citymapper travel app.
In Milan, in northern Italy, which has been locked up for several weeks now, only 3% of trips were planned via the Citymapper mobile app, compared to before the epidemic.
The data also suggest that people cut back on travel in the days leading up to government closings.
For example, the partial foreclosure of Sao Paulo, the most populous city in Brazil, took effect on March 24, but travel had already declined sharply the week before.
Even in cities where authorities have issued recommendations on social removal and have refrained from imposing strict restrictions, it seems that people still restrict their movements.
In Stockholm, Sweden, where the government has avoided drastic measures, issuing guidelines rather than hard rules, Citymapper data suggests that planned trips – which can include both walking and public transport – have dropped 70%.
The Stockholm public transport company announced last week that the number of passengers on the metro and commuter trains has halved.
The move is also below normal rates in some of the Asian cities for which Citymapper collects data, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, which have not enforced the type of closures seen elsewhere.
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, has not stopped like European capitals, despite the high number of cases of coronavirus – a sign of the country’s decision to focus on generalized testing and contact tracing rather than on social distancing.
We see the same behavior with people on the roads. Large cities around the world were already getting less and less busy before the official foreclosure measures, according to congestion data from location technology specialists TomTom.
In Tokyo, there is no official closure yet, but the schools have been closed since early March. This, and the lack of tourists, could explain why traffic there was slightly lower than last year’s levels without the marked slowdown elsewhere.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, where there has also been no official closure, congestion has already dropped to almost zero – similar to Los Angeles and New Delhi which closed on different dates.
The congestion score in the graph below indicates how long it would take to travel the city compared to the lack of traffic. A score of 50 means that a trip will take 50% longer than it would if the roads were completely free, for example, so a half hour drive would become 45 minutes. Regular low points in the chart usually occur on weekends.
In China, there are signs that things are starting to return to normal. Traffic levels have returned to around half the level in 2019 in Beijing and Shanghai, but have increased steadily since the beginning of February following protracted Chinese New Year celebrations from January 25.
In Wuhan, where the outbreak started, traffic levels are still close to zero compared to last year.
One of the few positive effects of the shutdown is that there appears to have been a drop in pollution in some parts of the world.
Levels of NO2 in the atmosphere vary greatly depending on factors such as wind speed, and satellites trying to measure these levels can be hampered by cloud cover.
This may explain part of the variability observed in Wuhan and northern Italy between January and March 2019 in the maps below.
But at these locations, the shutdowns have been more stringent and in place for longer than elsewhere, and the variation in NO2 levels between 2019 and the months of 2020 during which the shutdowns were in effect appears to be significant.
In the United Kingdom, and in many other places, available satellite data do not yet show one way or the other whether the continued reduction in economic activity is accompanied by a corresponding reduction in emissions, although other sources suggest it.
How we work
As the countries closed, many workers had to try to continue working from home.
This means that video calls and instant messaging have become invaluable business tools.
The average number of messages sent by users in New York, Paris, London and Berlin has increased by more than a third in just a few weeks.
Not everyone has gotten used to their new ways of working yet. But – depending on where you are – there might be a lot of time to do it.
By Daniel Dunford, Becky Dale, Nassos Stylianou, Ed Lowther, Maryam Ahmed and Irene de la Torre Arenas.