Data suggests activity levels during current lockdown higher than last spring

Movement for people living in England has been restricted once again as the public are urged to stay at home in the face of rising coronavirus infections.

Activity has dipped since the third national lockdown was imposed last week but, amid increasing calls for tougher restrictions, data suggests it has not fallen to the levels of March and April.

Driving levels in England on January 6, when the current lockdown rules came into force, were around 62% of the pre-pandemic average, according to data from Apple.

A near empty road at junction 44 of the M1 motorway near Leeds
A near empty road at junction 44 of the M1 motorway near Leeds

This is compared to 35% on March 26 last year – the day the first lockdown legally came into force – and around 73% when restrictions in November took effect.

For those walking, Apple’s mobility trends report shows that movement levels on January 6 this year were around 61% of pre-pandemic levels, compared to 38% on March 26 2020.

Meanwhile data from journey planning app Citymapper on the first day of the spring lockdown found that only 10% of Londoners were moving compared to usual.

While this gradually increased as restrictions were eased over the summer, when England went into its second lockdown on November 5 – Citymapper’s mobility index found it was 28%.

On January 4, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the current lockdown, it was 23% – falling to 19% when the restrictions came into force two days later.

The app, which is used for public transport, walking and cycling, found that mobility fell to 26% of normal levels in Manchester on January 6, compared to 12% at the start of the spring lockdown.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

Elsewhere, mobility in Birmingham was 27% of pre-pandemic levels when the current lockdown began, compared to 16% on March 26 and 42% when England went into its second lockdown on November 5.

In the capital, tube usage on January 6 was just under a fifth (17%) of that prior to the coronavirus crisis, according to data from Transport for London (TfL).

This is compared to just 6% on March 26, when the first lockdown began, and 23% on November 5, statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT) show.

In the spring lockdown, tube usage remained below 10% until June 1 – when schools welcomed back certain age groups and groups of up to six people were permitted to meet outdoors.

Similar to the first lockdown, schools in England are currently closed apart from for vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers.

But early years settings such as nurseries and childminders are permitted to stay open, while existing childcare bubbles are allowed to stay in place.

Lucy Yardley, professor of health psychology at the University of Bristol and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said it was not surprising activity levels are higher now when compared to last spring.

“It is certainly the case that there is more activity going on. But there is a lot more activity that is allowed and so it is not surprising that more people are out and about,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“So it is not necessarily that people are not obeying the rules, though of course anything that we can do to make sure that they do is a good thing.

“But I think it’s more that people are being allowed to do more and so they are.”

Unlike in March, when the first lockdown temporarily halted the majority of activity in the housing market, the buying and selling of properties is permitted to continue.

Referring to house viewings still going ahead, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer raised concerns that the current lockdown restrictions in England are not tough enough.

“We’re in this extraordinary situation if you like, where having got to at least as serious, if not a more serious position, than in March of last year, we’ve got lesser restrictions in place,” he said.

“And we need those in place as quickly as possible.”