Country-wide mobility changes observed using mobile phone data during COVID-19 pandemic

Relative change of mean radius of gyration (ROG) for week of March 2nd and week of March 23rd measured at postcode level.


In March 2020, the Austrian government introduced a widespread lock-down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on subjective impressions and anecdotal evidence, Austrian public and private life came to a sudden halt. Here we assess the effect of the lock-down quantitatively for all regions in Austria and present an analysis of daily changes of human mobility throughout Austria using near-real-time anonymized mobile phone data. We describe an efficient data aggregation pipeline and analyze the mobility by quantifying mobile-phone traffic at specific point of interest (POI), analyzing individual trajectories and investigating the cluster structure of the origin-destination graph. We found a reduction of commuters at Viennese metro stations of over 80% and the number of devices with a radius of gyration of less than 500 m almost doubled. The results of studying crowd-movement behavior highlight considerable changes in the structure of mobility networks, revealed by a higher modularity and an increase from 12 to 20 detected communities. We demonstrate the relevance of mobility data for epidemiological studies by showing a significant correlation of the outflow from the town of Ischgl (an early COVID-19 hotspot) and the reported COVID-19 cases with an 8-day time lag. This research indicates that mobile phone usage data permits the moment-by-moment quantification of mobility behavior for a whole country. We emphasize the need to improve the availability of such data in anonymized form to empower rapid response to combat COVID-19 and future pandemics.

Preprint: Country-wide mobility changes observed using mobile phone data during COVID-19 pandemic
Georg Heiler
Georg Heiler
PhD candidate & data scientist

My research interests include large geo-spatial time and network data analytics.

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