Understanding changes in human mobility in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial for assessing the impacts of travel restrictions designed to reduce disease spread. Here, relying on data from mainland China, we investigate the spatio-temporal characteristics of human mobility between 1st January and 1st March 2020, and discuss their public health implications. An outbound travel surge from Wuhan before travel restrictions were implemented was also observed across China due to the Lunar New Year, indicating that holiday travel may have played a larger role in mobility changes compared to impending travel restrictions. Holiday travel also shifted healthcare pressure related to COVID-19 towards locations with lower healthcare capacity. Network analyses showed no sign of major changes in the transportation network after Lunar New Year. Changes observed were temporary and did not lead to structural reorganisation of the transportation network during the study period.


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Cite as

Gibbs, H., Liu, Y., Pearson, C., Jarvis, C., Grundy, C., Quilty, B., Diamond, C., CMMID COVID-19 Working Group & Eggo, R. 2020, 'Changing travel patterns in China during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic', Nature Communications, 11(1), article no: 5012. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-18783-0

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Last updated: 01 April 2023
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