Are Countries Ready to Exit COVID-19 Lockdowns?
How prepared are countries around the world to work in a socially distant mode and lift lockdown orders during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Socially distant modes of working have become the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic
What social distancing looks like, however, varies wildly in countries across the globe.
Countries have taken vastly different measures to stop the spread of the virus. Some, such as India, mandated complete lockdowns. Others, such as Singapore, have been more measured in turning off face-to-face working and only declared a lockdown recently. And some, such as Brazil, have even dismissed the need to do so. Many countries, such as Germany, Denmark, New Zealand, among others, are planning a cautious re-opening and in the United States, President Trump has given each state the license to set its own easing calendar.
As such, the world effectively has launched a sweeping series of experiments, testing not only how to flatten the curve of the pandemic’s spread, but also how possible it is for their economies to survive when they move whatever is possible online. In other words, we are living through the purest test imaginable of the internet — and are quickly discovering how able it is to recreate a facsimile of the economy-as-usual. This dependence on the online facsimile will be the state of affairs for a significant period even as countries gently lift their lockdowns in phases.
While only part of any economy’s work can be done remotely, the success of moving large swaths of work into “socially distant mode” depends on multiple digital services: telecommunications platforms and apps, such as Zoom and Skype, to keep workers connected; e-commerce to get provisions to remote workers as retail establishments are shuttered or curtailed; and digital media — especially those that can withstand a drop in advertising revenues — to keep people informed and make good business decisions. On top of that, countries need digital payment options capable of handling the surges in transactions.
All of these, in turn, are dependent on internet infrastructure and how able it is to keep up with the spikes in digital traffic, especially with the simultaneous use of high-bandwidth applications. To reduce the costs a country must incur by putting the face-to-face economy on pause, policymakers and technology companies must understand where services are falling short and best practices and benchmarks to make near-term improvements and plan investments for the longer-term, beyond the immediate crisis.
At Tufts University’s Fletcher School, in a research project funded by the Mastercard Impact Fund and administered by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, we examined this question by evaluating 42 countries that are significant in the global economy and have enacted social distancing measures. Some countries that were missing key data were not included. We scored the “social distance readiness” of their economies using three indices developed with our team, which included researchers, Griffin Brewer and Christina Filipovic:
- Robustness of key platforms — technology-mediated remote work, e-commerce, digital media and the country’s digital foundations — key to business continuity
- Proliferation and resilience of digital payments options to facilitate transactions
- Resilience of the internet infrastructure to traffic surges
Using data to create an apples-to-apples comparison across countries like this creates a simplified picture, but one that we think is useful. The results (higher scores represent better performance along each index) are graphed below.
Scanning the map reveals several patterns and corresponding implications
Watch the video summary for key insights from the Social Distance Readiness benchmark.
Methodology and Data Sources
Digital Planet’s new analysis on Digital Readiness during COVID-19 offers quantitative insight to answer the question: which countries are the most prepared to keep the wheels of their digital economies turning during the COVID-19 crisis?
Our analysis maps 42 countries across two main axes: (1) Robustness of digital platforms key to business continuity and (2) Resilience of Internet infrastructure to traffic surges. We also examine the (3) Proliferation of digital payment options and (4) The percentage of workforce able to telecommute.
Index compilation methodology for scores follows the guidelines laid out by the OECD in their gold-standard Handbook on Constructing Composite Indicators. Weights for the indicators, clusters, and component hierarchy were assigned according to expert input under a budget allocation process (BAP). A full breakdown of indicator inputs, data sources, and weights can be found here.
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Note: This research was originally published in Harvard Business Review. This research is a work in progress and was made possible by the financial support from the Mastercard Impact Fund, which is administered by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. The underlying analysis, the methodology, the interpretations, and insights belong solely to the Institute for Business in the Global Context at The Fletcher School at Tufts University and do not in any way represent the views or positions of Mastercard and its affiliates.