How could mobility data support research on the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America?

June 16, 2022

This initiative resulted in a series of 10 working papers studying the mobility patterns during the pandemic.

Two years after the coronavirus pandemic upended the lives of Latin Americans, the landscape remains unsettled. In the region, the death toll continues to rise with average excess deaths of about 41,600 and 106,800 in 2020 and 2021, even though roughly 55 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Although policies are less stringent today than at the end of 2020, results from the governments’ response during the first year of the pandemic are very informative looking forward, especially for the design of strategies to contain future public health crises.

The UNDP Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (RBLAC) in an effort to promote a collective reflection on issues that are critical for policy reform toward more equal, more productive, and more resilient societies in the region established an alliance with GRANDATA and collected anonymous mobility data during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mobility data provided granular information about the number of times individuals left their homes before and after the outbreak was declared in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.

To support the production of policy-relevant research using these data, RBLAC put forth a call for research proposals that combined these mobility data with other geo-referenced data available at the country level to explore questions falling under the general umbrella of the “Socioeconomic Impact and Policy Response Assessments of COVID-19.” RBLAC received 34 proposals from research groups in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Sweden, and the United States. Following a peer-review process, 17 proposals were pre-selected based on their potential to maximize the use of the mobility data and the research methods.

This initiative resulted in a series of 10 working papers studying the mobility patterns during the pandemic. These studies explore the relationship that the mobility of people outside their homes had with other factors.

Half of the published papers use innovative methods to estimate the relationship between mobility and the incidence of COVID-19 cases and deaths, domestic abuse, and criminal activity.

The other half of the papers explore the potential mobility effects of other concurrent events during the pandemic. While three papers study the effect of cash transfers and food assistance programs implemented in response to the public health crisis on compliance with mobility restrictions, two papers study the relationship between political activities and changes in mobility patterns.

The findings from these papers provide an important baseline to understand how the policy response may affect the behavior of individuals and households amid a major crisis. Given the possibility that new variants of the coronavirus will emerge, governments should carefully consider the extent to which mobility restrictions may disrupt the lives of their citizens and the economy.