Delving into a broad set of data from 2020 – from Google Mobility data to newspaper clippings – researchers supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)-funded High-Volume Transport Programme (HVT) found a more nuanced picture of COVID-19 disease spread than previously thought. The results have widespread implications for decision-makers crafting appropriate mitigative policies, especially so in the transport sector.
A research team led by Dr Zia Wadud of the University of Leeds along with Dr Sheikh Mokhlesur Rahman and Dr Annesha Enam of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology published the summary findings from their project on 10th May 2021, titled, “Modelling the links between transport, air quality and COVID-19 spread using naturalistic data from Dhaka, Bangladesh.” The paper used aggregate time-series data to understand the relative contribution of various COVID-19 related policies on different COVID-19 and transport outcomes.
The data collected spanned a range of local (Dhaka) and national (Bangladesh) data sources, accounting for dramatic shifts in mobility patterns during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and concomitant restrictions of movement, while at the same time showing trends, some more surprising than others.
It seems clear that closing offices and public transport dramatically reduced the spread of COVID-19, based on reported disease data. The researchers also find a hint of risk compensation whereby mandatory mask rules had increased mobility. While air quality also appears to have improved, it is limited to a few locales, indicating that perhaps transport accounts for a relatively smaller share of noxious air pollution in Dhaka than assumed.
As for accidents, it seems that while accidents in Bangladesh expectedly went down due to reduced traffic activity, it increased when normalized against the reduction in traffic. This is an interesting finding and warrants further research to determine the reason and what implication this has for traffic planning (although this is consistent with findings by other researchers where it is attributed to increased speeds).
The final project report is expected in June 2021.
Author: Tali Trigg