The recent resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic has prodded Americans once again to cut back on flying, dining out, staying at hotels and other activities away from home in another blow to the U.S. economy.
By virtually every measure people are venturing out less — either because of fear of catching the virus or new government restrictions on business and the size of gatherings.
Take dining reservations.
The number of seated diners at restaurants in the U.S. fell this week to a six-month low, according to information collected by the popular website OpenTable. Customer occupancy is off 65% from a year earlier.
“Bookings are now at the weakest level since June,” noted Aneta Markowska, chief economist Jefferies LLC.
Similar declines have taken place in airline travel, hotel reservations, use of public transport and so forth. What’s more, mobility data collected by Google
show that people are driving and even walking around less, though colder weather is a contributing factor.
The huge increase in Covid-19 cases in the few weeks is the chief cause of the change in behavior. Americans are venturing out less in areas in which the virus is spreading rapidly as well as regions where the outbreak is more limited.
The U.S. has averaged more than 200,000 new Covid-19 cases a day over the past week. It was only in November that daily cases first topped 100,000.
The rollout of Pfizer’s
coronavirus vaccine and the pending approval of Moderna’s
rival drug could also be encouraging Americans to play it safe until the drugs are administered to them. It could take several months or longer to vaccinate the majority of the population.
A growing number of restrictions issued by cities and states, meanwhile, has also played a role in curbing activities away from home. While the restrictions are far fewer and less widespread than in the spring, they’ve also taken a toll on businesses and the broader economy.
economists predict U.S. economic growth will taper off in December and possibly into early 2021. Yet progress on the medical front, and the rising likelihood of another major package of Washington federal aid for the unemployed and struggling businesses, is raising hopes that the latest difficulties will be short-lived.
Extended unemployment benefits are set to run out at the end of December, potentially dealing another blow to the economy while leaving millions of people in even dire straits, unless Congress approves a new package this month.