April 29, 2021 | Press Release

COVID-19 in England and Wales: Excess Deaths Could Have Doubled Without Mobility Reductions

The researchers found a strong positive relationship between reduced mobility and lower population-level excess mortality. © iStockphoto.com/Drazen_

Mobility reductions may have prevented more than 94,000 deaths in England and Wales during the first wave of COVID-19 in spring 2020. That is what MPIDR researchers Ugofilippo Basellini, Diego Alburez-Gutierrez, and their colleagues found after linking digital trace data to excess mortality.

Local and national governments around the world have implemented a variety of regulations aimed at reducing social contact to curb the transmission of and deaths from COVID-19.

Ugofilippo Basellini, Diego Alburez-Gutierrez, and a team of researchers investigated the relationship between excess mortality and changes in mobility to assess the effectiveness of these policies to reduce mortality in England and Wales.

“Our study is one of the first attempts to quantify the effects of mobility reductions on excess mortality,” says Ugofilippo Basellini, Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany.

Leverage publicly available digital trace data

To do so, the researchers leveraged publicly available digital trace data, specifically the Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, and linked it to mortality and population data from the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The researchers found a strong positive relationship between reduced mobility and lower population-level excess mortality. This association emerged with a time lag of at least five weeks after the introduction of these measures. Shorter time lags did not show a reduction in excess mortality numbers.

The measures were effective, but more lives could have been saved

Overall, the researchers estimate that the number of excess deaths amount to approximately 62,200 from mid-March to mid-August 2020. This number could have more than doubled in the absence of mobility reductions, especially in the region of London. The researchers estimate that up to 94,200 excess deaths may have been prevented by the reduced mobility.

“However, we are not saying that the UK government did everything right. Earlier and stricter measures would have averted even more deaths,” says Diego Alburez-Gutierrez.

Whether these findings generalize to other countries or other waves of the pandemic still remains an open question. Future research exploring the possibility to combine digital trace with other sources of data, such as those related to social contact, may also help in providing deeper insights. “The pandemic has spurred innovation in research – highlighting the advantages of harnessing new sources of data, especially those available in near real-time,” says Ugofilippo Basellini.

Original Publication

Basellini, U., Alburez-Gutierrez, D., Del Fava, E., Perrotta, D., Bonetti, M., Camarda, C., Zagheni, E.: Linking excess mortality to mobility data during the first wave of COVID-19 in England and Wales. SSM - Population Health (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2021.100799

Project Team

Ugofilippo Basellini, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), Rostock

Diego Alburez-Gutierrez, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), Rostock

Emanuele Del Fava, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), Rostock

Daniela Perrotta, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), Rostock

Marco Bonetti, Bocconi University, Milan

Carlo G. Camarda, Institut National D’études Démographiques (INED), Aubervilliers

Emilio Zagheni, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), Rostock

MPIDR-Authors of the Paper

Research Scientist - Research Area Chair (Aging and Generational Processes)

Diego Alburez-Gutierrez

E-Mail

+49 381 2081-175

Research Scientist – Research Area Chair (Migration and Mobility)

Emanuele Del Fava

E-Mail

+49 381 2081-261

Director; Head of the Laboratory of Digital and Computational Demography

Emilio Zagheni

E-Mail

+49 381 2081-104

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.