Findings covered by national television: Effects of Non-Compulsory and Mandatory COVID-19 Interventions on Travel Distance and Time Away from Home

Press release

During the COVID-19 pandemic years, many governments in the world, including in Norway, introduced invasive prohibitions of activities and mobility to control the spread of the virus in times of epidemic surge: working from home, closure of schools, reduced mobility, closure of shops and restaurants, control of the number of people who could meet, and much more. Sometimes these measures were made obligatory in certain areas and periods, while on other occasions the population was only advised to behave accordingly. Was it worth making such measures mandatory, or was the advice enough for the purpose of reducing contact between people? This is a crucial question, because existing legislation was often challenged in the mandatory case, and negative effects were introduced, exactly because of the generality of the prohibition. It is essential to know what works best in mitigating the spread to inform authorities on what to do in the future when a new pandemic hits. Now a new study from Norway provides insights into the answer, suggesting that advice may be enough in some situations. 

Co-author Arnoldo Frigessi, Director of OCBE
Co-author Arnoldo Frigessi, Director of OCBE
Researchers at the Oslo Centre for Biostatistics and Epidemiology of the University of Oslo and the Oslo University Hospital, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Norwegian Computing Center and Telenor Research have just published a scientific article where they conclude that in all Norway, the distance travelled from home decreased systematically after non-compulsory measures were introduced. In the largest cities, however, the mobility of people was reduced further when the measures were made compulsory. This means that in densely populated areas, mandatory measures are more effective than mere advice. 

The researchers also found that the mobility of people increased significantly when gyms, restaurants and shops were reopened after a closure period. 

Human mobility serves as a surrogate measure for human contacts, and it was measured by tracking how mobile phones were moving around. In Norway, contact-reducing measures have mostly been advised and less frequently made mandatory. Only in large cities, such an obligation appears to have been effective. This might indicate that non-mandatory measures might be enough in future airborne pandemics. 

Contact:

Meghana Kamineni, meghana_kamineni@hms.harvard.edu
Solveig Engebretsen, solveige@nr.no
Arnoldo Frigessi, frigessi@medisin.uio.no
Birgitte Freiesleben de Blasio, Birgitte.Freiesleben.DeBlasio@fhi.no

Links:

The Eurosurveillance article:
Kamineni, M., Engø-Monsen, K., Midtbø, J. E., Forland, F., de Blasio, B. F., Frigessi, A., & Engebretsen, S. (2023). Effects of Non-Compulsory and Mandatory COVID-19 Interventions on Travel Distance and Time Away from Home: The Case of Norway in 2021.
Eurosurveillance Volume 28, Issue 17, 27/Apr/2023

Link to the feature in Kveldsnytt - evening news program on NRK - The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation:
"Unødvendige restriksjoner" - Interview with Arnoldo Frigessi

Oslo Centre for Biostatistics & Epidemiology (OCBE) home page at OUS

 
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