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    Mobile network tests the impact of social distancing on the spread of COVID-19

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    The Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) network was used to test the efficacy of social distancing measures working with the University of Latvia.

    The two created a study using big data provided by the mobile network to better understand human behaviour under the new restrictions of social distancing and staying at home. The goals of the study were:
    ● To understand if government-mandated social distancing recommendations are effective
    and can be objectively observed.
    ● To develop a way to provide decision makers with objective information on changes in people’s behaviour to make more informed decisions
    ● To observe precisely the population’s behaviour while remaining compliant with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): LMT is at pains to stress that surveillance of a population does not have to be intrusive.

    Significance

    Using big data from mobile network usage is significant not only within the scope of tracing the populations’ behaviour in a pandemic, but has implications for urban planning and demographic planning.

    The study found that the population is heeding policy and staying at home, largely in residential  neighbourhoods. Business centres in the cities have seen a drastic decrease in activity, indicating employers are embracing work from home.

     

    The data remotely and accurately identified hotspot locations, such as supermarkets, to monitor how distancing measures and limited visits to them are being observed.

    From trends in the data, the researchers believe they can develop predictions for future trends in a population’s behaviour, so if necessary, preventative measure can be implemented to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 should a second wave occur.

    Methodology

    Aggregated statistics drawn from network activity at LMT base stations (including incoming and outgoing phone calls, sent and received SMS messages, and the number of unique users) was used as the principal indicator to understand population behaviour precisely.

    Call activity was compared between the period of March 2019 and March 2020. During this time, the average amount of calls per month was 160 million, and over the course of the year, that number reaches 1.9 billion.

    Results

    There has been a significant increase in the number of phone calls made. In some cases, the daily phone call volume has exceeded that of new year’s, typically the most in-demand day of the year.

    A change in the behaviour of phone calls has been observed, shifting from the M-shaped pattern (with two peak times for phone calls – around 11:00 and 17:00 – see below left) to a morning peak.