The mobility of people within each country divides Europe in two. When a new wave of covid-19 cases approaches, there are places where people move almost the same as before the pandemic, as is the case in most regions of Spain, France, Poland and the Scandinavian countries, according to data from Google. Other countries, however, are limiting their movements much more strictly. Across the UK, in Portugal, Italy, Greece, around Paris and in much of Germany, the degree of mobility is practically half of what it was in January 2020, in times of antigua normal. Spain, on the other hand, is now one of the countries closest to its pre-pandemic normality.
The following map shows the movements of the inhabitants for 800 regions of 20 European countries at the end of March this year, according to EL PAÍS analysis of Google data from millions of geolocated devices.
The data offered by Google calculate the movement of the inhabitants of each region from the locations of their mobile phones, classifying the movements into categories. To summarize, the average of three trips has been taken: to the workplace, for leisure (to restaurants, cafes, museums, cinemas …) and for transport (to train, metro or bus stations). Mobility is expressed in comparison with the normality of the place: a value of 100 means that the trips are the same as in January 2020; a value of 50, that the movements have been cut in half.
Measuring mobility is useful: from what is known about the virus, a greater degree of movement is related to more contacts and a greater risk of infection. It was seen during the first wave, and with the Christmas holidays or the autumn bridges, as indicated by the work of the Computational Biology team of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. On the La Mercè bridge in September, for example, they found that increased circulation triggered infections. Four weeks ago, in Spain mobility was seen to rise and now the rebound is appreciated. It has been calculated that strict confinement can lower the transmission by up to 80%, and a study from the University of Oxford highlights three measures to reduce infections: close universities and colleges; close bars and restaurants, and limit meetings to a few people.
Comparisons of mobility between regions should be taken as an approximation and Google advises against “not comparing changes between regions with different characteristics”, such as rural and urban areas. But they are important data because they allow you to measure trends.
The evolution of mobility, a reflection of restrictions
The trend in Europe since January has been to maintain limited mobility. This has happened in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Austria, Greece or the Czech Republic, where 60% of what would be normal mobility is now recorded. In Italy, after the cases rose, the new restrictions have further reduced activity: in Rome they have gone from having 70% of their normal mobility at the end of February to only 50% in the last weeks of March.
In Spain, Huelva constitutes one of the three European areas with the most relative movement: the displacements are 90% of the usual before the pandemic. Many provinces are close to that data, and that is why the map above is almost all blue, with exceptions such as Alicante, which suffered one of the worst third waves, and Barcelona and Madrid. It is also in blue, somewhat normal, most of France – but not Paris – a situation that may change soon after the announcement of the closure of schools for the next three weeks after months with hospitals and ICUs practically saturated. The dilemma is similar to that of Germany, which these days has considered tightening its restrictions due to the increase in cases. There, the activity fell in January to data similar to those of Spain, to then also normalize in February and March in a de-escalation process. Other countries with relative normality are Poland, Croatia or Romania, and also the Nordic countries, although there it is possible that the comparison with January 2020 is delicate, because it was the harshest of winter.
Evolution of mobility in Europe since the start of the pandemic.
The data indicate a recent mobility trend in many cities. As the examples of Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona show, in Spain mobility has been increasing for three months and exceeds 70% of the usual in January 2020. The contrast is evident with Milan or Rome (60%), for example, where the Mobility has been drastically restricted in recent weeks, after a strong spike in infections. In other capitals, mobility is not reduced, but it is at lower levels than in large Spanish cities, as seen in Brussels, Paris or Berlin (60%), and even more clearly in Lisbon, Oslo or London (50%) .
More change in big cities
The map highlights a pattern that can be seen in the large cities of the continent: the majority have seen mobility reduced more than what is normal in them, in contrast to less urban areas of the same countries. It is something that is observed in London, Paris, Berlin, London, Oslo, Stockholm, Prague, Warsaw, Milan, Turin and Lisbon. In Spain, this phenomenon is evident in Madrid and Barcelona, which have 10 points lower mobility than Guadalajara, Cuenca, Lleida and Tarragona.
On the one hand, we know that in large cities there are usually more movements, so that the current abnormality implies a greater change there. It is possible that in some cities – such as Paris – extraordinary restrictions have been imposed, because their contagions often grow faster. Many other factors can influence, but one that seems fundamental is work.
Google data allows us to see mobility by activities and large cities stand out in that they have greatly reduced movements to workplaces. In cities there are more jobs where teleworking is simple, such as the banking sector, consulting and technology companies, communication companies or public administrations. Madrid and Barcelona have reduced trips to work to 75% and 78% of the usual, more than anywhere (except Melilla), while in the rest of the provinces they have only done so to 80% or 90%. There are extreme cases: in Oslo these trips are half of the usual, although in the rest of Norway they reach 70% or 80%. Stockholm is also the region with the least labor mobility in Sweden; Berlin and Hamburg are in Germany and Paris in France. On the other hand, trips to bars, cafes or cinemas are somewhat more homogeneous in Italy, Spain or France.
Seeker. In the following you can see the evolution of mobility data in most regions that we reflect in the map above.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.