First the shops opened again, now the restaurants and soon all the hotels. The Bundesliga is playing again, amateur sports are slowly following. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep a close eye on the easing of corona restrictions in each state.
If there is no renewed increase in new infections, the approximation to normal that is currently being observed could be permanent. But how normal is life in Germany now? Representative survey data from the University of Mannheim show that the times of strict social distancing are coming to an end. People are meeting friends and acquaintances more and more often.
At the end of March, 70 percent of those surveyed had stated that they had not met with friends or acquaintances in the past seven days. This figure is now only 25 percent – see the red columns in the following diagram.
The current values therefore do not quite correspond to those that were common before the start of the corona crisis. But they have already come closer, as a comparison of the pillars on the far left (survey data from March 8th – before the start of the precautionary measures) and on the far right (May 17th) makes clear.
The data on contact behavior comes from the Mannheim Corona study, in which sociologists have been interviewing around 500 participants in a representative panel of 4,000 people every day since March 20.
Mobility is an important indicator of relaxation in everyday life. This had decreased by almost 40 percent by the end of March after the federal government and the federal states had decided on various restrictions on contacts and stays in public.
But now the minus is only around 14 percent, as an evaluation of mobile data shows, made by researchers from the Humboldt University of Berlin and the company Teralytics. The data comes from Telefónica.
The diagram above shows the development of movements compared to average numbers from March 2019. The researchers chose this comparison month in order to be able to use the same data as a comparison value over the entire period. Usually, mobility numbers hardly change from month to month anyway.
If a cell phone leaves a radio cell and does not change its position for at least 15 minutes later, this counts as one movement. It doesn’t matter how mobile phone owners move, whether on foot, by train or by car.
The fact that Germany is currently still at a mobility loss of 14 percent could be related to the still high home office rate – and possibly also to short-time work. This eliminates typical commuter routes from home to work and back. The Internet company Google has provided data on this.
What Google sees
The Internet company constantly counts how often certain places are frequented by people, such as parks, train stations, one’s own home or work. This is possible because many cell phone owners allow Google to track their cell phones – and anonymized evaluations.
Google then compared the number of visits to these locations to past averages. Differences between days of the week are also taken into account.
The following diagram shows the presence in the workplace – measured in all 16 federal states. The red line stands for Berlin, the dark blue for Saxony-Anhalt. City-states like Berlin obviously have the highest proportion of home offices, which is related to the comparatively high proportion of office jobs there.
Between mid-March and mid-April, the decline in cities like Berlin and Hamburg was more than 50 percent. By the beginning of May, the presence at workplaces across Germany had increased again. But in the big cities, the minus is still 40 percent.
Home office is still widespread there – despite all the easing. The reduced contacts at many workplaces could also be one of the reasons why the infections did not increase for the time being despite various easing measures.
Normality in the supermarket
You can use the mouse or finger to display details of the individual federal states by touching the gray lines.
According to Google data, groceries, supermarkets and pharmacies are almost normal. There are only slight differences from state to state here.
The situation is different when using public transport, as it is still greatly reduced. Many people apparently fear the risk of infection on buses and trains and follow the recommendation to walk, ride a bicycle or take the car. Google indirectly measured public transport usage – via the presence of cell phone owners at stops and train stations.
For weeks the question has been discussed in Germany how strong the restrictions on personal freedoms in Germany were and are current. Data from abroad provide illuminating perspectives. From Sweden, for example, a country that is said to act in a very different way in the corona crisis than Germany. Or from neighboring countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, France. And of course also from Asia and America.
Because Google evaluates cell phone data worldwide, such comparisons are no problem. However, one should not look so much at the mean values of countries because they are populated very differently and have different mobility patterns.
It makes more sense to compare large cities like Stockholm, London, Cairo, Prague or New York with Hamburg and Berlin. The following diagrams show the data from these metropolises – here only from the 4th to the 7th of May (Monday to Thursday) compared to average values.
The presence in workplaces has dropped dramatically worldwide. But the percentages are larger in many metropolises than in Berlin and Hamburg, which are just a bit behind the province of Stockholm, which also includes the surrounding area of the Swedish capital.
The situation is similar for public transport, which Google records via visits to stops and train stations.
In the past few weeks, many people around the world have only been able to leave their homes for shopping – for example in Spain or Italy. Google also counts how often people stay in their home – and compared these numbers with values before the corona crisis.
The numbers have increased worldwide – but Berlin and Hamburg are 14 to 15 percent high in the overview, again just behind the province of Stockholm.
The international comparison makes it clear: Germany is one of the countries that have come the closest to normal. However, there will still be no complete normality in the foreseeable future.