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Detecting behavioural changes in human movement to inform the spatial scale of interventions against COVID-19

By Hamish Gibbs, Emily Nightingale, Yang Liu, James Cheshire, Leon Danon, Liam Smeeth, Carl AB Pearson, Chris Grundy, LSHTM CMMID COVID-19 working group, Adam J Kucharski, Rosalind M Eggo

Posted 27 Oct 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.26.20219550

BackgroundIn 2020, the UK enacted an intensive, nationwide lockdown on March 23 to mitigate transmission of COVID-19. As restrictions began to ease, resurgences in transmission were targeted by geographically-limited interventions of various stringencies. Understanding the spatial scale of networks of human interaction, and how these networks change over time, is critical to inform interventions targeted at the most at-risk areas without unnecessarily restricting areas at low risk of resurgence. MethodsWe use detailed human mobility data aggregated from Facebook users to determine how the spatially-explicit network of movements changed before and during the lockdown period, in response to the easing of restrictions, and to the introduction of locally-targeted interventions. We also apply community detection techniques to the weighted, directed network of movements to identify geographically-explicit movement communities and measure the evolution of these community structures through time. FindingsWe found that the mobility network became more sparse and the number of mobility communities decreased under the national lockdown, a change that disproportionately affected long distance journeys central to the mobility network. We also found that the community structure of areas in which locally-targeted interventions were implemented following epidemic resurgence did not show reorganization of community structure but did show small decreases in indicators of travel outside of local areas. InterpretationWe propose that communities detected using Facebook or other mobility data be used to assess the impact of spatially-targeted restrictions and may inform policymakers about the spatial extent of human movement patterns in the UK. These data are available in near real-time, allowing quantification of changes in the distribution of the population across the UK, as well as changes in travel patterns to inform our understanding of the impact of geographically-targeted interventions. Putting Research Into ContextO_ST_ABSEvidence before this studyC_ST_ABSLarge-scale intensive interventions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been implemented globally, significantly affecting human movement patterns. Mobility data show spatially-explicit network structure, but it is not clear how that structure changed in response to national or locally-targeted interventions. Added value of this studyWe used daily mobility data aggregated from Facebook users to quantify changes in the travel network in the UK during the national lockdown, and in response to local interventions. We identified changes in human behaviour in response to interventions and identified the community structure inherent in these networks. This approach to understanding changes in the travel network can help quantify the extent of strongly connected communities of interaction and their relationship to the extent of spatially-explicit interventions. Implications of all the available evidenceWe show that spatial mobility data available in near real-time can give information on connectivity that can be used to understand the impact of geographically-targeted interventions and in the future, to inform spatially-targeted intervention strategies. Data SharingData used in this study are available from the Facebook Data for Good Partner Program by application. Code and supplementary information for this paper are available online (https://github.com/hamishgibbs/facebook_mobility_uk), alongside publication.

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