Study finds analysis of mobile signal activity distribution helps predict outbreak risk

Using universal mobile phone data to track the collective flow of Chinese mouths can accurately predict the geographic and temporal spread of the new coronary pneumonia outbreak, according to a study published in Nature. The study analyzed the distribution of people flowing out of Wuhan, China, at the beginning of the outbreak of new coronary pneumonia in January 2020. Large-scale population movements can lead to endemic outbreaks that can lead to widespread disease. However, monitoring such mass movements is difficult to implement, such as the massive Spring Festival, which begins on January 24, 2020, ahead of the Chinese New Year.

Study finds analysis of mobile signal activity distribution helps predict outbreak risk

Jia Jianmin of the Chinese University in Hong Kong,Shenzhen, Nicholas Christakis of Yale University in the United States and his collaborators studied anonymous mobile phone data from a large state-owned mobile phone operator in China to analyze the movement of more than 11 million people who stayed in Wuhan for at least two hours between January 1 and January 24 this year. They then linked the data to the rate of infection in 296 counties in 31 provinces and cities in China as of February 19.

The authors report that segregation restrictions have been effective in significantly reducing population movements: between January 22 and January 23, outflows fell by 52 per cent and by 94 per cent between January 24. They also showed that, depending on the distribution of population outflows, the frequency and geographic location of new coronary pneumonia outbreak infections in China could be accurately predicted up to two weeks in advance, and that cities with a higher risk of potential transmission could be identified early in the outbreak. The authors suggest that the model of the study could be used to assess the risk of community transmission in different regions in future outbreaks of new coronary pneumonia.

The authors concluded that the findings could be used in other affected countries that have access to mobile phone data to help their decision makers conduct rapid and accurate risk assessments and plan for a reasonable allocation of limited resources.