Tracking the economic impact of COVID lockdowns in the Americas, Europe, and Asia

One economist is using Google Trends data and machine learning to provide weekly snapshots of GDP in various countries.
February 7, 2021, 2:00 PM UTC
MAP.03.21.Outdoor Dining Waiter
A waiter carries dishes from outdoor seating in Philadelphia on Jan. 16.
Hannah Beier—Reuters

One by-product of the global pandemic has been to speed up tech-driven innovation in a range of areas—including economics. Data scientists have long sought to improve real-time GDP estimates. And the challenge has become more urgent as policymakers try to balance the COVID-19 health crisis with the toll of lockdowns. So Nicolas Woloszko, an economist at the OECD, developed a system that uses Google Trends data and machine learning to provide weekly snapshots of GDP in 46 countries with a high degree of accuracy. Here, we’ve overlaid Woloszko’s GDP numbers for the past year with data from the University of Oxford on strict lockdowns in 12 major economies. One conclusion: With a virus as devastating as SARS-CoV-2, there is no universal policy blueprint for success.

This article appears in the February/March 2021 issue of Fortune with the headline, “The economic impact of lockdowns.”