Report COVID-19 and mobility

The coronavirus crisis opens a new fracture in Europe

How has the mobility of Europeans evolved with the different measures and degrees of containment to slow the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic? Follow the changes thanks to the application developed by our partners from Civio.

Published on 1 May 2020 at 09:17

By 15 March, half of the people who regularly walk along the streets of European capitals had vanished. Europe had already recorded around 40,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19. A few days later, the number of people on the streets continued to fall, while the number of those infected kept growing. In the following weeks the number of pedestrians was around 30% of the regular levels. And it has remained that way until now, almost a month and a half later, when we are experiencing a slight resurgence in mobility thanks to confinement measures being relaxed in some countries. On Friday, 17 April, the occupation of European streets rose above 40% of the usual levels for the first time in a month. By then, there were more than 765,000 confirmed cases and more than 76,000 deaths in the European Union.

But this comeback to normal is not homogeneous across Europe. Cities such as Athens, Zagreb, Copenhagen and Berlin have seen an increase in the number of passers-by over the last week. In Madrid, Rome and Paris, with much more restrictive measures, the occupation is still very low, almost always flat and below 20%. As of 17 April, Italy (more than 22,000), Spain (more than 19,000) and France (almost 18,000) are the three EU countries with the highest number of covid-related deaths. The exception: Lisbon, where pedestrian mobility is similar, below 20%, even if the number of deaths in Portugal (657 on 17 April) is far from the figures in Spain, Italy and France.

Other European capitals opted from the very beginning for more lax measures, allowing mobility and keeping shops open. In Stockholm, for example, street pedestrian traffic has rarely fallen below 50% of the usual level. And on 18 April it reached 77%. Something similar happens in Helsinki, which barely went below 50% and was close to 80% on Saturday.

Receive the best of European journalism straight to your inbox every Thursday

The road traffic levels match almost exactly the patterns seen with pedestrians. The drop in the number of cars on the road has also been drastic, but not as much. The number of vehicles compared to the usual figure in European capitals has been around 40%. But, as with pedestrian mobility, on 18 April we saw the first clear peak in growth in the last month, with Europe-wide levels reaching 45% of normal traffic.

Once again, the difference between Central/Northern Europe and Southern countries is substantial. Traffic in Rome remains at around 20%, as in Athens, Lisbon or Madrid, while Paris stays at 10%. Meanwhile, Copenhagen, Prague and Stockholm are already close to pre-crisis levels, at around 80% of their usual ones. Berlin is getting close to that.

Only one in ten planes flying

Air traffic has experienced the sharpest and most homogeneous fall in the crisis. On 15 March, traffic in the main airports of each country was already below 20% of their usual activity. Nowadays, it doesn’t even reach 10%.

In most cases, the fall in flights happened in the third week of March, between the 15th and 22nd, in line with the Commission’s recommendation which urged all member countries to close their borders, with only some exceptions: residents of the Schengen area travelling home, health workers, cross-border ones, carriers, diplomats, armed forces, or people travelling for humanitarian reasons or “imperative family reasons”. The Commission recommends that these restrictions remain in place until at least 15 May.

In Italy, the first European country to be hit by the coronavirus and the first to implement confinement measures (first regionally, then expanded to the whole country on 9 March), air traffic had already decreased by then, to about 30% in the second week of March, the first week we have data for.

This decline in flights was abrupt in Riga, Bratislava, Nicosia, Warsaw or Madrid. In other European capitals the shift was somewhat milder, with more progressive restrictions, as in Zagreb, Sofia or Dublin. Eventually, almost all European countries followed the recommended border closure. Except Ireland. This is the reason why traffic at Dublin airport is much more progressive and didn’t fall below 30% until 27 March. On that date, Ireland was one of the European countries with the least number of deaths (19) and had just over 1,800 confirmed cases.

How we collected the data


This article uses data from the application created by Civio for EDJNET to monitor three parameters daily versus to the usual pre-crises: pedestrian traffic, road traffic and flights. The information focuses only on European capitals. We use three sources:

Airports. We use daily traffic data provided by EuroControl, broken down by airport. EuroControl provides the number of flights at the airport, as well as the number of flights a year earlier, on a comparable day (i.e. Monday 2020-02-03 compares to Monday 2019-02-04). These two numbers allow us to calculate a daily percentage of fall with respect to the pre-crisis level.

Pedestrians traffic data is drawn from Apple’s mobility reports, which reflect the use of address searches on Apple Maps. The reports consist of a percentage of daily variation from the usual baseline established by Apple, so we do not perform any additional processing. We use the data at the city level for the most important European capitals or, if they are not available, the data at the national level, indicating it in the graph.

Road traffic data comes from the TomTom Traffic Index, which compares the time it takes for drivers to reach their destination on a given day against a congestion-free scenario taken as the baseline. Daily, we download the real-time data provided by TomTom with hourly granularity on the current day’s congestion and the average congestion in 2019. (As an example, this is the Brussels page.) The daily indicator shown on the map is the decrease in the sum of the hourly values of the current congestion, versus the sum of hourly values of the 2019 average congestion.

The download and data processing has been done in Ruby. The visualization has been developed with Adobe Illustrator and D3.js. Both the European map and city graphics are embeddable.

This article is a first analysis of this data, but we will keep the information updated daily and we will continue studying Europe’s return to normality.

Cet article est publié en partenariat avec 7742

Was this article useful? If so we are delighted! It is freely available because we believe that the right to free and independent information is essential for democracy. But this right is not guaranteed forever, and independence comes at a cost. We need your support in order to continue publishing independent, multilingual news for all Europeans. Discover our membership offers and their exclusive benefits and become a member of our community now!

Are you a news organisation, a business, an association or a foundation? Check out our bespoke editorial and translation services.

Support independent European journalism

European democracy needs independent media. Join our community!

On the same topic