Methods: Information on cases and deaths related to COVID-19 was obtained from Worldometer data. The change of mobility after the outbreak of COVID-19 in 119 countries across six continents was extracted from the Google’s Community Mobility Reports published on April 2, 2020. Google provided novel data regarding how the practice of social distancing changed in six places (i.e., retail and recreation, grocery and pharmacy, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residences) from February 16th, 2020 to March 29, 2020 compared to the median value from January 3 to February 6, 2020. This study employed three analytical methodologies: 1) cluster analysis to classify 119 countries based on similarity in trends in the changes in social distancing; 2) ANOVA with post-hoc Bonferroni and Scheffe tests to detect differences in the confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths among the country clusters identified; and 3) Pearson correlation analysis to examine the relationship between COVID-19 and social distancing. This study adopted a cross-sectional approach that can show the snapshot of the relationship between social distancing and COVID-19.
Results: Three country clusters best fit the data: 18 countries with the smallest change in social distancing, 51 countries with medium change in social distancing, and 50 countries with the highest change in social distancing. Significant differences were observed in total cases (F (2, 111) = 7.76, p < 0.001) and deaths (F (2, 97) = 5.03, p = 0.01) per million people among the three country groups. The countries with the highest change in social distancing had more total cases and deaths than the countries with the smallest and medium changes in social distancing. Consistently, the practice of social distance was significantly correlated with total cases (p < 0.01) and deaths per million people (p < 0.01).
Conclusions and Implications: Significant differences noted between the countries with medium and the highest changes in social distancing in the number of total COVID-19 cases and deaths per million people suggest that higher risk increases physical distancing and reduces interactions between people in communities. These findings support the idea that individuals’ social distancing could be influenced by their fear and risk of death from the contagious pandemic. The increasing risk of death from COVID-19 might have caused more fear of death in people and communities.