Tracking the Coronavirus — Part Four: China’s Signs of Recovery

In a multi-part series, Orbital Insight brings you on-the-ground truth on how businesses, industries, and markets across the world are impacted by the coronavirus contagion.

China’s economy was devastated by the novel coronavirus outbreak in the first two months of the year, according to retail sales/industrial output/fixed asset investments data reported by CNN, and analysts say the nightmare is far from over.

Yet, latest satellite imaging and other intelligence gathered by Orbital Insight shows traffic spiking by more than 200% from January’s lows at one of Beijing’s key ring roads, and parking lots filling up to pre-crisis levels at a major science and technology park in the capital, suggesting a nascent recovery might be underway in the world’s number two economy.

Car Counts That Matter

The 4th Ring Road is a controlled-access expressway ring road in Beijing, China which runs around the city, with a radius of approximately 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) from the city centre. The total length of the road is 65.3 kilometers (40.6 mi). There are 147 bridges and viaducts that run the length of the Ring Road which feed traffic to the radial highways that connect districts outside the city center with key economic hubs of the capital.

As of February 17, the Chinese economy was likely running at 70% to 80% capacity, according to a Bloomberg Economics report, while China International Capital Corp estimated it was at about 76% as of March 8. Forbes, meanwhile, says that China’s economic recovery won’t get kick-started until May.

Our GO data, which combines geospatial imaging with IoT-based intelligence, gives clients an insight into the nuances of the work underway in Beijing that may be missed by hard economic numbers and mainstream media reporting.

From A Crisis Low Of Just 200 Cars…

Orbital Insight detects and calculates the number of cars on roads, factories, retailers, and entire cities by applying computer vision and machine learning to satellite imagery.

Our study of pre-crisis traffic on the 4th Ring Road showed 1,902 cars as of January 14.

But within a fortnight, as the pandemic worsened in China, car counts on the 4th Ring Road fell by 90% as authorities ordered entire city lockdowns to contain the thousands of infections and dozens of deaths being reported in a day.

GO’s capture of traffic on the 4th Ring Road on January 28 showed just 200 cars as federal and provincial authorities froze non-essential movement and kept heavily-infected cities and districts segregated from each other.

To A Post-Crisis Traffic Spike Of Over 200%

But just as dramatic as the initial drop in traffic was the recovery.

A March 6 capture of GO data showed 617 cars on the 4th Ring Road, accounting for a spike of 200% from the crisis low.

The recovery in traffic was sighted amid signs that China was beginning to win the battle against the COVID-19 as the outbreak declined within its border and started to intensify globally, particularly in Italy and rest of Europe, as well as the United States.

The timeline for the traffic recovery on Ring Road 4 coincides with the easing of restrictions on people’s movements in China since the beginning of March, as stores and factories reopened following the drop in daily infections and death rates from the virus. Aiding business sentiments were lenient bank lending and other stimulus measures, worth about $330 billion provided by the People’s Bank of China.

Affirming The Narrative: The Technology Park Story

Also backing up the recovery theme in China was the ramp-up in parking lots’ usage at the Dongsheng Technology Park, an incubation hub for high-tech companies in the northeast corner of Haidian district.

Vehicle Count Also Spikes At Dongsheng Park

From just 152 cars observed at the Dongsheng park as of February 14, the count had risen to pre-crisis levels of 455 by March 4.

Our ability to pick up such work-related activity like this gives clients crucial insights into supply chains when the need for ground-truth is most pressing.

Our assertion is that GO enables analysts and government officials to combine geospatial data with traditional sources of intelligence to obtain a comprehensive, multi-perspective view of the subject at hand.

Our proprietary geolocation data tracks workforce trends by day of the week, allowing us to see less pronounced day-of-week variance at certain biotech, healthcare, and pharmaceutical manufacturers during the latter weeks into the contagion.

Orbital Insight is actively working with clients to meet the surge in demand for data around the economic impact of the coronavirus.

We will be providing insights on our blog for best practices of using GO to track fuel demand indicators, supply chain activity, tourism trends as well as critical data that can be used by public health officials that can help slow the spread of the virus.

Stay tuned for more examples demonstrating how geospatial analytics can quantify the shutdowns and recovery of assets such as auto plants, airports, ports, and retail centers.




Perspective is a powerful thing.

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Orbital Insight

Orbital Insight

Geospatial analytics for an interconnected world.

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