The association of community mobility with the time-varying reproduction number (R) of SARS-CoV-2: a modelling study across 330 local authorities in the UK

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Abstract

Background: Community mobility data have been used to assess adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions and its impact on SARS-CoV-2 transmission. We assessed the association between location-specific community mobility and the reproduction number (R) of SARS-CoV-2 across UK local authorities.

Methods: In this modelling study, we linked data on community mobility from Google with data on R from 330 UK local authorities, for the period June 1, 2020, to Feb 13, 2021. Six mobility metrics are available in the Google community mobility dataset: visits to retail and recreation places, visits to grocery and pharmacy stores, visits to transit stations, visits to parks, visits to workplaces, and length of stay in residential places. For each local authority, we modelled the weekly change in R (the R ratio) per a rescaled weekly percentage change in each location-specific mobility metric relative to a pre-pandemic baseline period (Jan 3-Feb 6, 2020), with results synthesised across local authorities using a random-effects meta-analysis.

Findings: On a weekly basis, increased visits to retail and recreation places were associated with a substantial increase in R (R ratio 1·053 [99·2% CI 1·041-1·065] per 15% weekly increase compared with baseline visits) as were increased visits to workplaces (R ratio 1·060 [1·046-1·074] per 10% increase compared with baseline visits). By comparison, increased visits to grocery and pharmacy stores were associated with a small but still statistically significant increase in R (R ratio 1·011 [1·005-1·017] per 5% weekly increase compared with baseline visits). Increased visits to parks were associated with a decreased R (R ratio 0·972 [0·965-0·980]), as were longer stays at residential areas (R ratio 0·952 [0·928-0·976]). Increased visits to transit stations were not associated with R nationally, but were associated with a substantial increase in R in cities. An increasing trend was observed for the first 6 weeks of 2021 in the effect of visits to retail and recreation places and workplaces on R.

Interpretation: Increased visits to retail and recreation places, workplaces, and transit stations in cities are important drivers of increased SARS-CoV-2 transmission; the increasing trend in the effects of these drivers in the first 6 weeks of 2021 was possibly associated with the emerging alpha (B.1.1.7) variant. These findings provide important evidence for the management of current and future mobility restrictions.

Funding: Wellcome Trust and Data-Driven Innovation initiative.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Lancet Digital Health
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2021

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