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Early social distancing policies in Europe, changes in mobility & COVID-19 case trajectories: insights from Spring 2020

Woskie, Liana R., Hennessy, Jonathan, Espinosa, Valeria, Tsai, Thomas C., Vispute, Swapnil, Jacobson, Benjamin H., Cattuto, Ciro, Gauvin, Laetitia, Tizzoni, Michele, Fabrikant, Alex, Gadepalli, Krishna, Boulanger, Adam, Pearce, Adam, Kamath, Chaitanya, Schlosberg, Arran, Stanton, Charlotte, Bavadekar, Shailesh, Abueg, Matthew, Hogue, Michael, Oplinger, Andrew, Chou, Katherine, Corrado, Greg, Shekel, Tomer, Jha, Ashish K., Wellenius, Gregory A. and Gabrilovich, Evgeniy (2021) Early social distancing policies in Europe, changes in mobility & COVID-19 case trajectories: insights from Spring 2020. PLOS ONE, 16 (6). ISSN 1932-6203

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Identification Number: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253071


Background Social distancing have been widely used to mitigate community spread of SARS-CoV-2. We sought to quantify the impact of COVID-19 social distancing policies across 27 European counties in spring 2020 on population mobility and the subsequent trajectory of disease. Methods We obtained data on national social distancing policies from the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker and aggregated and anonymized mobility data from Google. We used a pre-post comparison and two linear mixed-effects models to first assess the relationship between implementation of national policies and observed changes in mobility, and then to assess the relationship between changes in mobility and rates of COVID-19 infections in subsequent weeks. Results Compared to a pre-COVID baseline, Spain saw the largest decrease in aggregate population mobility (~70%), as measured by the time spent away from residence, while Sweden saw the smallest decrease (~20%). The largest declines in mobility were associated with mandatory stay-at-home orders, followed by mandatory workplace closures, school closures, and non-mandatory workplace closures. While mandatory shelter-in-place orders were associated with 16.7% less mobility (95% CI: -23.7% to -9.7%), non-mandatory orders were only associated with an 8.4% decrease (95% CI: -14.9% to -1.8%). Large-gathering bans were associated with the smallest change in mobility compared with other policy types. Changes in mobility were in turn associated with changes in COVID-19 case growth. For example, a 10% decrease in time spent away from places of residence was associated with 11.8% (95% CI: 3.8%, 19.1%) fewer new COVID-19 cases. Discussion This comprehensive evaluation across Europe suggests that mandatory stay-at-home orders and workplace closures had the largest impacts on population mobility and subsequent COVID-19 cases at the onset of the pandemic. With a better understanding of policies’ relative performance, countries can more effectively invest in, and target, early nonpharmacological interventions.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 The Authors
Divisions: Health Policy
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 16 Jul 2021 11:27
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2024 04:48

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