Accounting for Global COVID-19 Diffusion Patterns, January-April 2020

Yothin Jinjarak, Rashad Ahmed, Sameer Nair-Desai, Weining Xin, Joshua Aizenman

NBER Working Paper No. 27185
Issued in May 2020, Revised in June 2020
NBER Program(s):International Finance and Macroeconomics, Public Economics

Key factors in modeling a pandemic and guiding policy-making include mortality rates associated with infections; the ability of government policies, medical systems, and society to adapt to the changing dynamics of a pandemic; and structural factors. In the absence of vaccines, policies which limit social contact are a key strategy adopted by most countries. However, the strictness and timing of such policy interventions vary substantially across countries. Additionally, institutional and demographic characteristics may influence mortality dynamics both directly through the size of vulnerable populations, and indirectly through citizens’ perceptions and behavioral responses to stringency policies. This paper traces the cross-country associations between COVID-19 mortality, policy interventions aimed at limiting social contact, and their interaction with institutional and demographic characteristics. We document that, with a lag, more stringent pandemic policies were associated with lower mortality growth rates. The association between stricter pandemic policies and lower future mortality growth is more pronounced in countries with a greater proportion of the elderly population, greater democratic freedom, larger international travel flows, and further distance from the equator. Countries with greater policy stringency in place prior to the first death realized lower peak mortality rates and exhibited lower durations to the first mortality peak. In contrast, countries with higher degrees of initial mobility saw higher peak mortality rates in the first phase of the pandemic, and countries with the greater elderly population, a greater share of employees in vulnerable occupations and a higher level of democracy saw their mortalities take longer to peak. Our results suggest that policy interventions are effective at slowing the geometric pattern of mortality growth, reducing the peak mortality and shortening the duration to the first peak. Also, we shed light on the importance of institutional and demographic characteristics on guiding policy-making in preparation for future waves of the pandemic.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w27185

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