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The English Patient: Evaluating Local Lockdowns Using Real-Time COVID-19 & Consumption Data

John Gathergood and Benedict Guttman-Kenney

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Abstract: We find UK 'local lockdowns' of cities and small regions, focused on limiting how many people a household can interact with and in what settings, are effective in turning the tide on rising positive COVID-19 cases. Yet, by focusing on household mixing within the home, these local lockdowns have not inflicted the large declines in consumption observed in March 2020 when the first virus wave and first national lockdown occurred. Our study harnesses a new source of real-time, transaction-level consumption data that we show to be highly correlated with official statistics. The effectiveness of local lockdowns are evaluated applying a difference-in-difference approach which exploits nearby localities not subject to local lockdowns as comparison groups. Our findings indicate that policymakers may be able to contain virus outbreaks without killing local economies. However, the ultimate effectiveness of local lockdowns is expected to be highly dependent on co-ordination between regions and an effective system of testing.

Date: 2020-10, Revised 2021-01
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Published in CEPR Covid Economics 64:73-100, January 2021

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