Vinceti M, Balboni E, Rothman KJ, Teggi S, Bellino S, Pezzotti P, Ferrari F, Orsini N, Filippini T. Substantial impact of mobility restrictions on reducing COVID-19 incidence in Italy in 2020. J Travel Med. 2022 Sep;29(6):taac081. doi: 10.1093/jtm/taac081

BACKGROUND: Italy was the first country after China to be severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, in early 2020. The country responded swiftly to the outbreak with a nationwide two-step lockdown, the first one light, and the second one tight. By analysing 2020 national mobile phone movements, we assessed how lockdown compliance influenced its efficacy.

METHODS: We measured individual mobility during the first epidemic wave with mobile phone movements tracked through carrier networks, and related this mobility to daily new SARS-CoV-2 infections, hospital admissions, intensive care admissions and deaths attributed to COVID-19, taking into account reason for travel (work-related or not) and the means of transport.

RESULTS: The tight lockdown resulted in an 82% reduction in mobility for the entire country and was effective in swiftly curbing the outbreak as indicated by a shorter time-to-peak of all health outcomes, particularly for provinces with the highest mobility reductions and the most intense COVID-19 spread. Reduction of work-related mobility was accompanied by a nearly linear benefit in outbreak containment; work-unrelated movements had a similar effect only for restrictions exceeding 50%. Reduction in mobility by car and by airplane was nearly linearly associated with a decrease in most COVID-19 health outcomes, while for train travel reductions exceeding 55% had no additional beneficial effects. The absence of viral variants and vaccine availability during the study period eliminated confounding from these two sources.

CONCLUSIONS: Adherence to the COVID-19 tight lockdown during the first wave in Italy was high and effective in curtailing the outbreak. Any work-related mobility reduction was effective, but only high reductions in work-unrelated mobility restrictions were effective. For train travel, there was a threshold above which no further benefit occurred. These findings could be particular to the spread of SARS-CoV-2, but might also apply to other communicable infections with comparable transmission dynamics.

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