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Nonlinear Dynamics Journal Article

Human mobility and COVID-19 initial dynamics

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Countries in Europe took different mobility containment measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. The European Commission asked mobile network operators to share on a voluntarily basis anonymised and aggregate mobile data to improve the quality of modelling and forecasting for the pandemic at EU level. In fact, mobility data at EU scale can help understand the dynamics of the pandemic and possibly limit the impact of future waves. Still, since a reliable and consistent method to measure the evolution of contagion at international level is missing, a systematic analysis of the relationship between human mobility and virus spread has never been conducted. A notable exceptions are France and Italy, for which data on excess deaths, an indirect indicator which is generally considered to be less affected by national and regional assumptions, are available at department and municipality level, respectively. Using this information together with anonymised and aggregated mobile data, this study shows that mobility alone can explain up to 92% of the initial spread in these two EU countries, while it has a slow decay effect after lockdown measures, meaning that mobility restrictions seem to have effectively contribute to save lives. It also emerges that internal mobility is more important than mobility across provinces and that the typical lagged positive effect of reduced human mobility on reducing excess deaths is around 14–20 days. An analogous analysis relative to Spain, for which an IgG SARS-Cov-2 antibody screening study at province level is used instead of excess deaths statistics, confirms the findings. The same approach adopted in this study can be easily extended to other European countries, as soon as reliable data on the spreading of the virus at a suitable level of granularity will be available. Looking at past data, relative to the initial phase of the outbreak in EU Member States, this study shows in which extent the spreading of the virus and human mobility are connected. The findings will support policymakers in formulating the best data-driven approaches for coming out of confinement and mostly in building future scenarios in case of new outbreaks.



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