A new tool designed to monitor the impact of coronavirus on the UK found that population movement dropped by 98 per cent since the start of the lockdown.
Experts in big data and AI from the University of Oxford developed the COVID-19 Impact Monitor and say it already shows ‘dramatic changes’ in everyday life.
The tool uses aggregated mobile phone location data that has been made anonymous – this is to allow them to track trends in movement.
The team also discovered that 55 per cent of Britons stayed home on Easter Monday and despite a surge in admissions – hospital footfall was down by 80 per cent.
Other revelations from the data include the fact that the best time to visit a supermarket if you want to avoid crowds is 09:00 BST on a Tuesday.
This graphic shows a dramatic drop in movement across the UK since March 1, with the most notable change happening in the past ten days
Researchers say the data collected can’t be used to identify an individual but does allow them to understand the impact the virus has on the NHS and community.
Team leader, Dr Adam Saunders said monitoring population movements in response to the pandemic is something being done around the world.
‘The team came together to do what we could to help tackle the challenge facing the UK through the use of ethical big data analytics for the public good,’ he said.
The team found about 19 million Britons are in an at risk category for COVID-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions – just under a third of the population.
As well as moving about less, the team also discovered that people are travelling around the country less – with movement between regions dropping by 76 per cent.
They’ve created a digital dashboard to show the data in an easier to understand way – including a breakdown per region.
Dr Matthias Qian, who worked on the development team said getting insights from big data is key to fighting the coronavirus and making social distancing work.
‘Fully anonymised and aggregated mobile phone location data provides a responsible approach for revealing important insights for the NHS, the government and the wider public, which can help save lives,’ he said.
Data for the app came from a range of services including Cuebiq, CKDelta and Facebook’s Data for good programme on population density.
Monitoring tools using location data from mobile phones are already being used to help slow the spread of the virus in other parts of the world.
‘The monitoring of population movements in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has received considerable attention following its use in China, South Korea and Singapore, the countries where the virus impacted earliest,’ said Saunders.
Privacy experts have expressed concern over the use of location data, with some describing tracking efforts as ‘Orwellian’.
While the Oxford tool is designed to provide data on overall trends – rather than specific people – other apps could offer more focused data.
A new NHS phone app has been created that could eventually allow ministers to lift the stringent lock-down that has brought Britain to a halt.
Westminster Bridge is almost empty as a result of orders to stay indoors to slow the spread of COVID-19. Researchers found movement in the UK has dropped by 98 per cent since March 1
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the ‘contract tracing’ software would allow people who become unwell to warn those they had been in touch with ‘over the past few days’ so they can ‘act accordingly’.
NHSX, the health service’s technological arm, is believed to have been working on software which uses bluetooth technology, alongside Google and Apple, who run the two main smartphone operating systems.
Toni Vitale, head of data protection at JMW Solicitors, said for this sort of technology to work it needs to be installed by at least 60 per cent of the population.
‘The question is: if the public accepts this intrusive use of personal data for health reasons in an emergency, would they become desensitised to the UK Government using data for crime prevention, to monitor large crowds at events or even to replace the national census – due in 2021,’ said Vitale.
The team behind the Oxford monitoring tool say it is completely anonymous and GDPR compliant. Their goal was to track general movements rather than people.
A number of tech companies are working with governments and researchers to provide information that can help in fighting the virus.
Apple recently announced it would make data generated through its GPS app available to agencies tracking mobility under isolation orders.
Also Google and Apple are working together with governments on using native software to tackle the spread of the virus.