Tracking the Coronavirus — Part Five : Economic Recovery in China
It’s been a year and a month since China announced the first death from Covid-19. In response to the virus, the country swiftly implemented restrictions on movement in hopes to curb the disease’s deadly impact. A coordinated public health response, as well as a high rate of compliance with social distancing and mask wearing requirements helped keep China’s officially-reported death toll from COVID-19 low. Reliable data on the impact of the virus in China is scarce. It seems the virus is mostly under control there — but has its economy recovered?
We’ve been monitoring car traffic at Beijing’s 4th Ring Road since early 2020 in order to gain insight into how the virus impacted the flow of traffic along its roads, which can serve as a proxy for economic health. Orbital Insight’s computer vision technology automates the counting of cars over areas like the 4th Ring Road by processing hundreds of satellite images with machine learning algorithms to identify and quantify objects. Our web-based software platform GO showed how the number of cars on the 4th Ring Road was impacted by COVID-19 when the virus first struck, keeping everyone home and their cars parked.
In March, when the impacts of COVID-19 were just starting to become clear in the U.S., we wrote about the stark drop we saw in traffic along the 4th Ring Road beginning in January 2020.
Car counts on the 4th Ring Road had dropped to a low of just 200 cars on January 28th, from a high of 1,902 two weeks prior. By March 6, there was a small sign that travel had commenced on the road—traffic had tripled on the expressway to 617. We see almost a year later that the number of cars on the 4th Ring Road has been slow to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels, and there have been some slips along the way.
By mid-June 2020, traffic was still at only about 80 percent of its pre-COVID-19 level, with a peak of 1,662 cars on June 12th. Just as traffic seemed to be reaching its pre-pandemic volume, a virus outbreak at Beijing’s Xinfadi wholesale market led to a renewed scramble to restrict movement. According to the BBC, 45 virus cases were detected at the market, after a 50 day trend of the city being COVID-19 free. Lockdowns were swiftly imposed in 11 neighborhoods.
The impact of those lockdowns is clear on the 4th Ring Road. By June 30th, traffic had plummeted to just 638 cars. After that late-June low, the car count gradually increased. By September, traffic on the 4th Ring Road seemed to have recovered to pre-COVID-19 levels.
With the virus now mostly under control in China, experts predict robust economic growth in 2021 as the country recovers from tight restrictions. By monitoring traffic at places like Beijing’s 4th Ring Road, Orbital Insight can help organizations gain insight into what is happening on the ground in areas they might not otherwise have direct access to. Rapidly available insights and quantifiable observations like these help U.S. Government policymakers and private sector financial analysts make informed, data-driven decisions.
Orbital Insight’s platform can project macroeconomic trends abroad, predict the efficacy and emergent consequences of lockdown measures, or evaluate patterns-of-life in otherwise opaque regions. GO supports all manner of case studies and users in analyzing what matters most to them and their clients.
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Orbital Insight is the geospatial analytics company that helps organizations understand what’s happening on and to the Earth. Customers including Unilever, Airbus, RBC Capital Markets, The World Bank and the U.S. Department of Defense use Orbital Insight’s self-service analytics platform that highlights supply chain vulnerabilities, opportunities, and considerations for national security. Headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., Orbital Insight is backed by Sequoia, Google Ventures, Chevron, and Bunge.