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Life during COVID-19: HERE and ENEL X map mobility flows across Italy

Life during COVID-19: HERE and ENEL X map mobility flows across Italy

Could a big data project that anonymously maps the movement of people help Italy get back to normal sooner rather than later?

Italy has been hit hard by coronavirus. News images beamed from hospital critical care wards laid bare the scale of the pandemic, as the country struggled to keep on top of this escalating disease.

According to our coronavirus tracker, there have been 187,327 confirmed cases and 25,085 deaths in Italy*. That's the second highest number of deaths after the United States.

Italy was also the first country in Europe to impose a national lockdown, with the government imposing the closure of non-key businesses and restricting the movement of its people. Those who wanted to leave their homes had to fill out and carry with them a special permit explaining their reasons for being outside.

That's when innovation group ENEL X and HERE Technologies came up with a solution – the City Analytics – Mobility Map. Using big data and mapping capability that estimate variations in the public's movements and kilometers traveled, authorities could now see the bigger picture around the flow of people.

“The solution supports our country in this difficult period," explains Sergio Gambacorta, head of smart cities at ENEL X's innovation and production lab. “The dialogue and data assessment with HERE has been crucial to making this project real. The dashboard offers public indicators about mobility to help public administrations measure the effectiveness of the lockdown policy.

“The second purpose is to support public administration in evaluating data-driven policies for the return to normality. If you can say your municipality has respected the policy during the lockdown, that the flows between municipalities was reduced, you can be confident your citizens are aware of the risk and you can start evaluating a reopening of that area - taking other metrics and parameters into account."

Until now, local governments relied on local on-the-ground checks by police and officials to monitor the effectiveness, or not, of the lockdown. But City Analytics – Mobility Map gives them a more holistic overview. Sergio notes a couple of examples. “During the Easter weekend we did some analysis to see if Italian municipalities were respecting the measures or not because this is a normally a busy period for travel. And we've seen that Italy has been very good at respecting the measures, with very few exceptions. We've been very happy to see that several municipalities pointed out in their online social channels their own results of movement decreases in that period compared to baseline and the previous week."

In terms of exceptions during the Easter weekend, the dashboard revealed, for instance, a 13% increase from the previous week in movements from Rome to the seaside. The Police installed checkpoints and discovered several lockdown infringements. And in San Marco in Lamis, a small town in southern Italy, an unauthorized procession on Easter Friday was flagged on the dashboard showing a 34% increase in the Movements Indicator.

“These two stories confirm that we're working in the right direction," adds Sergio. “We're giving indicators that can be representative to the situation in the real world and help public administration to take action to prevent these kinds of cases".

Does this infringe people's privacy? Sergio is keen to point out that, “For us, privacy is the most important rule that needs to be respected in this big data project. All the data is anonymous and aggregated, and processed in compliance with GDPR. It's not possible to identify anyone from the data in the dashboard." The data originates from connected vehicles, navigation systems, mobile applications and government agencies.

Italy has now started to ease back some of the lockdown restrictions after a recent decline in daily cases. Citizens can now visit book shops and children's clothing stores, but they must wear protective gloves and masks and social distancing is still in operation.

Government bodies and citizens can access the data on the dashboard for free until May 31st, 2020 – and the solution can be used by other countries keen to return to normalcy in a data-driven way.

*(figures correct as of April 24, 2020)

Ian Dickson

Ian Dickson


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