Estimating the COVID-19 Spread Through Real-time Population Mobility Patterns: Surveillance in Low- and Middle-Income Countries.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


On January 21, 2020, the World Health Organization reported the first case of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which rapidly evolved to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the virus has also rapidly spread among Latin American, Caribbean, and African countries.


The first aim of this study is to identify new emerging COVID-19 clusters over time and space (from January 21 to mid-May 2020) in Latin American, Caribbean, and African regions, using a prospective space-time scan measurement approach. The second aim is to assess the impact of real-time population mobility patterns between January 21 and May 18, 2020, under the implemented government interventions, measurements, and policy restrictions on COVID-19 spread among those regions and worldwide.


We created a global COVID-19 database, of 218 countries and territories, merging the World Health Organization daily case reports with other measures such as population density and country income levels for January 21 to May 18, 2020. A score of government policy interventions was created for low, intermediate, high, and very high interventions. The population's mobility patterns at the country level were obtained from Google community mobility reports. The prospective space-time scan statistic method was applied in five time periods between January and May 2020, and a regression mixed model analysis was used.


We found that COVID-19 emerging clusters within these five periods of time increased from 7 emerging clusters to 28 by mid-May 2020. We also detected various increasing and decreasing relative risk estimates of COVID-19 spread among Latin American, Caribbean, and African countries within the period of analysis. Globally, population mobility to parks and similar leisure areas during at least a minimum of implemented intermediate-level control policies (when compared to low-level control policies) was related to accelerated COVID-19 spread. Results were almost consistent when regional stratified analysis was applied. In addition, worldwide population mobility due to working during high implemented control policies and very high implemented control policies, when compared to low-level control policies, was related to positive COVID-19 spread.


The prospective space-time scan is an approach that low-income and middle-income countries could use to detect emerging clusters in a timely manner and implement specific control policies and interventions to slow down COVID-19 transmission. In addition, real-time population mobility obtained from crowdsourced digital data could be useful for current and future targeted public health and mitigation policies at a global and regional level.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Tyrovolas, S; Giné-Vázquez, I; Fernández, D; Morena, M; Koyanagi, A; Janko, M; Haro, JM; Lin, Y; Lee, P; Pan, W; Panagiotakos, D; Molassiotis, A

Published Date

  • June 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 23 / 6

Start / End Page

  • e22999 -

PubMed ID

  • 33950850

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8204939

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1438-8871

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1439-4456

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.2196/22999


  • eng