Japan’s Voluntary Lockdown: Further Evidence Based on Age-Specific Mobile Location Data
Changes in people's behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic can be regarded as the result of two types of effects: the "intervention effect" (changes resulting from government orders or requests for people to change their behavior) and the "information effect" (voluntary changes in people's behavior based on information about the pandemic). Using mobile location data to construct a stay-at-home measure for different age groups, we examine how the intervention and information effects differ across age groups. Our main findings are as follows. First, the age profile of the intervention effect of the state of emergency declaration in April and May 2020 shows that the degree to which people refrained from going out was smaller for older age groups, who are at a higher risk of serious illness and death, than for younger age groups. Second, the age profile of the information effect shows that, unlike the intervention effect, the degree to which people stayed at home tended to increase with age for weekends and holidays. Thus, while Acemoglu et al. (2020) proposed targeted lockdowns requiring stricter lockdown policies for the oldest group in order to protect those at a high risk of serious illness and death, our findings suggest that Japan's government intervention had a very different effect in that it primarily reduced outings by the young, and what led to the quarantining of older groups at higher risk instead was people's voluntary response to information about the pandemic. Third, the information effect has been on a downward trend since the summer of 2020. While this trend applies to all age groups, it is relatively more pronounced among the young, so that the age profile of the information effect remains upward sloping, suggesting that people's response to information about the pandemic is commensurate with their risk of serious illness and death.
The number of COVID-19 infections in Japan began to increase in earnest in the latter half of February, and by the end of March, the cumulative number of infections had reached 2,234. In response to the spread of infections, the government declared a state of emergency on April 7 for seven prefectures including Tokyo, and on April 16, the state of emergency was expanded to cover all prefectures. As a result, people refrained from going out, and the number of new infections in Japan, after peaking at 720 on April 11, began to drop, falling to almost zero by the end of May. This was the first wave of infections. However, in July, the number of new infections began to increase again, and continued to increase throughout the summer (peaking at 1,605 new infections on August 7). This was the second wave. While the second wave had subsided by the end of August, the number of new infections began to increase once again in late October, and on December 31, 2020, the number of new infections in Tokyo reached 1,353, exceeding 1,000 for the first time (the number of new infections nationwide was 4,534). In response, the government again declared a state of emergency on January 7. We are currently in the middle of the third wave.