Physical Distancing and Future COVID-19 Deaths in Brazil: Evidence of a Paradoxical Effect

17 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2020

Date Written: October 6, 2020


Background: Physical distancing is touted worldwide as the best strategy to curb the progression of the current COVID-19 pandemic, yet, its efficacy has never been direct or adequately assessed. Thus, the present study sought to investigate the relationship between physical distancing and the number of future COVID-19 deaths in Brazil.

Methods: The percentage of individuals who stayed within 450 meters from their residence on a given day based on mobile phone location data (Social Isolation Index) and the number of hours a day that individuals spent in their residence were both obtained from public databases provided by private companies (respectively, In Loco© and Google©). The number of COVID-19 deaths that occurred each day was obtained through official public reports from the Brazilian Ministry of Health. Statistical analysis was performed to identify how levels of physical distancing related to the number of COVID-19 deaths 01 to 51 days later. A comparison was also made between the observed number of deaths and extrapolations, based on the SIR model, from before the implementation of restrictive measures to increase physical distancing.

Results: The degree of physical distancing at a given date showed a strong positive Spearman correlation to the number of COVID-19 deaths 40 days later (Rho=.75, p<.01, for the Social Isolation Index, and Rho=.83, p<.01, for the added number of hours spent in one’s residence). The trajectory of deaths as a function of time and physical distancing indicated that more distancing was associated to a higher peak number of deaths, a sooner arrival of that peak, and more accumulated deaths. A Social Isolation Index above 45% and/or spending more than 15% more hours at one’s residence, as well as a rapid and intense elevation in either variable, were linked to 13.8% more future COVID-19 deaths.

Conclusions: There is compelling evidence that government-enforced physical distancing in Brazil has increased the number of COVID-19 deaths in that country rather than reducing it. Though further studies are still necessary, it is paramount to immediately question the use of societal restrictive measures as a means to curb the progression of the current pandemic.

Note: Funding: The authors declare no support from any organization for the submitted work.

Declaration of Interests: There were no financial relationships with any organizations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years, no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

Ethics Approval Statement: As established by the ethical guidelines for scientific research with human subjects in Article 1, Subsections II, III and V, of Resolution no. 510 from the Brazilian National Council on Health, the present study was exempt from registration or evaluation from the country’s Council of Ethics in Research and National Council of Ethics in Research due to the fact that it used publicly accessible information, public domain information and aggregate databases where individual identification is impossible.

Keywords: COVID-19, Physical Distancing, Social Isolation, Social Distancing, Pandemic, Granger Causality, Brazil

JEL Classification: I18

Suggested Citation

Campello de Souza, Bruno and Campello de Souza, Fernando Menezes, Physical Distancing and Future COVID-19 Deaths in Brazil: Evidence of a Paradoxical Effect (October 6, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Bruno Campello de Souza (Contact Author)

UFPE ( email )

Cidade Universitária
Recife, Pernambuco 50670-901

Fernando Menezes Campello de Souza

UFPE ( email )

Cidade Universitária
Cidade Universitária, Pernambuco 50670-901

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