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The Pandemic May Be Over But UK Mobile Networks Are Still Monitoring Population Movement

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The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recently signed contracts with mobile network operators O2 and BT Group, which owns EE, to track the movements of people. Such data was extensively used during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The deal with BT will run up to April 2025 while the deal with O2 will end after one year.

The location data from BT will be used to provide the UKHSA with data on journeys made by rail and road and footfall in suburban and urban areas. The data will be aggregated.

The data will supposedly be used for modeling of the spread of illnesses and help prepare for future public health emergencies and biological and weather incidents.

The agency hopes the data will provide insight into “behavioral changes post-pandemic, helping us understand the potential impact of wider health threats… [and] establish a post-pandemic baseline of behavior.

“Analysis [of] national vaccine programs… requires a good understanding of the mixing between age groups to capture potential indirect effects,” the BT contract stated. “Currently, these models use pre-pandemic mixing data and will need to be recalibrated to post-pandemic mixing to ensure they are able to account for the changes to the epidemiology of pathogens going forward. Mobility data will aid UKHSA in understanding how mixing has changed during the pandemic, and at what point this settles into a more regular pattern in the future.”

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