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The trade-off between virtual and physical activities during COVID-19

Photo: CDC
Published Mar 02, 2021

New research explores how individuals have changed their activity-travel patterns and internet usage during the first wave of COVID-19, and which of these changes may be kept.

As COVID-19 turned everyday life upside down with lockdowns, quarantines and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus, digital solutions, such as Zoom, has become essential for people in their professional and personal lives. However, a new paper from ITRL shows that the ability to adopt to the digitalised alternatives vary across different populations, especially in disadvantaged groups. The transition to online services as substitution of real-life activities for some groups were non-existent, for others it poses a stressful and challenging obstacle.

The paper written by ITRL researchers Elisa Bin, Claudia Andruetto, Yusak Susilo and Anna Pernestål investigates how individuals have changed their activity-travel patterns and internet usage during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic period, which of these changes were adopted and the likelihood to keep their new behaviour.

Portrait of Elisa Bin
Elisa Bin, research engineer.

“We wanted to study how individuals have changed their behaviour during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic period, in terms of activity-travel patterns and internet usage”, Elisa Bin explains. “This is important to examine since the pandemic has drastically changed people's lives worldwide, but the ability to adopt digitalized alternatives is different across socio-economic and socio-demographic groups.”

For example, the study showed that people who stopped travelling for one activity also reduced their travel for other activities. While people with children in the household had smaller reductions in travel for eating out, hobbies, and visits to friends and family. Furthermore, online activities replaced travelling to some extent. In particular, full-time workers, highly educated people, and students increased their internet usage more than their counterparts, while respondents in India reported less increase in internet usage.

“The results show that external restrictions and personal characteristics are the driving factors of the reduction in ones' daily trips. However, the acceptance and long-term adoption of online alternatives are correlated with the respondents' personality and socio-demographic group, not with the restriction policies in place. This highlights the importance of promoting alternatives as a part of more extended lifestyle changes”, Elisa says.

The paper was published in the European Transport Research Review and gathered 781 responses across different countries, mainly from Italy, Sweden and India. A series of multivariate analyses were carried out to examine respondents travel activities and internet usage during the pandemic.

Read the full paper here.