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A strong relationship was found between transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 and mobility during the period between the first two waves of the coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic.
Trends in mobility and viral transmission evolved almost in parallel during this period.
Tracking changes in mobility patterns would help public health authorities to anticipate increases in transmission.
This result is important from a public health perspective when relaxing mitigation measures.
Recent literature strongly supports the hypothesis that mobility restriction and social distancing play a crucial role in limiting the transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). During the first wave of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, it was shown that mobility restriction reduced transmission significantly. This study found that, in the period between the first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was high positive correlation between trends in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and mobility. These two trends oscillated simultaneously, and increased mobility following the relaxation of lockdown rules was significantly associated with increased transmission. From a public health perspective, these results highlight the importance of tracking changes in mobility when relaxing mitigation measures in order to anticipate future changes in the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
Recent literature strongly supports the hypothesis that mobility restriction and social distancing play a crucial role in limiting the transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was shown that mobility restriction reduced transmission significantly. Some studies concluded that mobility patterns were correlated with the prevalence of COVID-19, and that travel restriction reduced the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (
). Other studies used changes in mobility patterns to estimate the effect of mitigation measures on the reproduction number, and showed that mobility restriction, coupled with the introduction of mitigation measures, led to a sharp decrease in transmission (
). However, these results were limited to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, before and during the first lockdown period.
It remains unknown whether increased mobility following the relaxation of lockdown rules is associated with enhanced transmission of SARS-CoV-2. In addition to mobility patterns, lockdowns impact a wide range of dimensions in society. This makes it difficult to draw a causal link between mobility and viral transmission from lockdown data. To improve understanding, investigation of this association in the interval between lockdown periods was undertaken to determine if mobility data can be used as an early signal for the implementation of public health measures.
This study found strong correlation between trends in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and mobility in the period between the first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in various French regions and Ireland. The aim of this study was to compare different geographical settings with similar population sizes. Changes in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 were quantified by computing the effective reproduction number Reff(t). This is defined as the average number of secondary cases at time t arising from a primary infected case. Reff(t) is an important metric to measure time-varying transmissibility and assess the effectiveness of different interventions. The classical statistical methods for estimating Reff(t) have many shortcomings due to the characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, namely silent transmission and major variation in the time to case reporting due to lack of timely or appropriate testing (
). Google mobility data measure the percentage of change relative to pre-pandemic baseline mobility, and measure visits to and time spent in several areas: retail and recreation locations, supermarkets and pharmacies, public transport hubs, workplaces and at home.
This analysis revealed that trends in transmission estimated from well-documented hospital data correlated strongly with trends in mobility patterns within and between the first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic for retail/recreation mobility, as well as public transport mobility. Reff(t) increased and oscillated in parallel with mobility; correlation between 15 May and 15 October 2020 was highly significant, with Pearson's correlation coefficient >0.5 (Figure 1). These relationships were particularly strong for retail/recreation mobility and public transport mobility. In addition, cross-correlation functions for these datasets were computed, and revealed that correlations were maximal for a delay between 0 and 10 days, and this delay varied depending on the region (Figures A2 and A3, see online supplementary material).
Earlier findings showed that mobility restriction can reduce the transmission of infection dramatically, and the present results confirmed that the reverse is also true; that is, increased mobility following the relaxation of lockdown rules can lead to an increase in transmission. This suggests the importance of tracking changes in mobility data at different spatial resolutions to anticipate future changes in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and guide public health policy.
The strong relationship between retail/recreational mobility and increased transmissibility suggests that a return to baseline human activity poses a significant risk of increased infection. Moreover, even if a direct causal link cannot be drawn, this strong correlation indicates that an increase in retail/recreation mobility promotes high-intensity contact between people and interaction between people of different households, resulting in increased transmission of SARS-CoV-2. This strong relationship is in agreement with the findings of
, who demonstrated that mobility network models can inform the re-opening of society.
These findings illustrate the importance of mobility at defined regional levels, and, perhaps more importantly, show that public transport mobility and retail/recreation mobility are more strongly correlated with transmission than other forms of mobility. These findings will aid the refinement of possible lockdown policies and mitigation measures in the future while awaiting the ‘roll out’ of vaccines.
BC and BR are supported, in part, by Grant ANR Flash Covid-19 from Agence Nationale de la Recherche (DigEpi).
Conflict of interest
Appendix A. Supplementary data
The following are the supplementary data to this article: