Using travel pattern to prepare for Omicron

Published December 3, 2021, 2:30 PM

by Wilson Chua

Amazingly, African governments turned to mobile phones to fight Ebola in the past. You see, mobile phones are widely owned, even in poorer sections of Africa. And when you use your mobile phone — when you call or text – the mobile phone sends a wealth of location information to Telcos. These are then gathered to generate travel maps like this one:

In the map above, each blue line describes the path of travel for people in Africa. The thicker the line, the larger the travel volume. This makes it easy for Chief executives to visualize what is happening on the ground. It helps drive effective countermeasures.

So I thought: Can we use data to help our governments fight and or prepare for the impending arrival of the Covid19 Omicron variant?

Forewarned is to be forearmed

Governments can blunt the impending arrival of the Covid19 Omicron variant by predicting its path. Here is one way: I used Facebook’s Data for Good to generate a heat map of travel volumes, and used Tableau’s density to create the insight.

Areas with darker REDs have higher travels. In comparison, areas with lighter yellows have lower travels. I measured this against PRE-Pandemic levels, and I generated this map for the last two weeks of November 2021.

What I see alarms me

I see conditions are ripe for a wave that rivals the spread of the Delta variant. I see higher travels in Pangasinan, Central Luzon, Metro Manila, and Calabarzon. This is worrisome for three reasons when taken in the context of the viral spread of the Covid19 Omicron variant.

First, NCR is THE international gateway for the Philippines. It will be among the first to get Omicron — when it hits the Philippines. Second, NCR is the central bridge that connects travel across the Philippines. Travel from North to South and vice versa go through NCR. From Metro Manila, the Omicron variant can spread to the rest of the country.

Third, NCR, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon are regions with high population densities. This provides more fuel to the fire that is Omicron. This virus can move across more people — even more so when the volume of travel is higher than PRE-pandemic levels.

As of this writing, I am reading that this variant is far more infectious than the Covid19 Delta. We have seen how fast the Delta variant spread. Omicron looks set to be even faster. I can see Omicron spread FASTER in these red zones.

Silver Lining: Higher vaccination rates in NCR

I do hope that the higher vaccination rates in NCR at 92% will blunt the insidious march of the Omicron variant. It is not too late to prepare and set up OTHER countermeasures. Please share this where you think it will serve the greater good.