IZA DP No. 9326: Economic Activity and the Spread of Viral Diseases: Evidence from High Frequency Data
forthcoming in: Quarterly Journal of Economics
Viruses are a major threat to human health, and - given that they spread through social interactions - represent a costly externality. This paper addresses three main issues: i) what are the unintended consequences of economic activity on the spread of infections? ii) how efficient are measures that limit interpersonal contacts? iii) how do we allocate our scarce resources to limit their spread? To answer these questions, we use novel high frequency data from France on the incidence of a number of viral diseases across space, for different age groups, over a period of a quarter of a century. We use quasi-experimental variation to evaluate the importance of policies reducing inter-personal contacts such as school closures or the closure of public transportation networks. While these policies significantly reduce disease prevalence, we find that they are not cost-effective. We find that expansions of transportation networks have significant health costs in increasing the spread of viruses and that propagation rates are pro-cyclically sensitive to economic conditions and increase with inter-regional trade.