Graphing the Pandemic Economy

In a fast-evolving crisis like a pandemic, GDP and other conventional economic metrics are simply too slow to be useful for policymakers who need to make decisions about when to lock down and reopen parts of the economy. Fortunately, real-time mobility data has opened a window into the world that COVID-19 has wrought.


„Though a “pandemic economy” is rather unusual, it has identifiable features and operates according to clear patterns. In the early stages, the outbreak must be contained at the expense of mobility and productive economic activity. Failing that, a recovery cannot be realistically considered.Owing to the tension between health outcomes and economic goals, the recovery will be much slower than the precipitous economic free fall that occurs when lockdowns are imposed. This general pattern has been confirmed in a wide range of countries (Figure 2).

Generally speaking, a sharp and deep contraction is followed by a period (of variable duration) in which the economy remains depressed as the virus is brought under control (the trough). This phase is then followed by an S-shaped recovery – a slow but steady acceleration in growth, followed by a deceleration as output approaches its pre-pandemic levels. This last deceleration reflects the fact that some sectors (air travel, sporting events) are difficult to restore, given the continued need for social distancing.“ (…)