Fully 7 months into the pandemic we are learning the hard way that we really need to rethink the way we all travel. Far from getting better, the pandemic is spreading faster than ever. On Friday (16th October) the world set an ominous new record high for COVID-19. JHU reported for the first time that over 400,000 new daily cases were acquired globally. Whilst the virus is spreading unchecked in the Americas and the Middle East, the new record highs are being driven by a new resurgence across Europe.
In the European summer we saw holiday makers once again allowed to travel without restrictions across Europe. As a result we saw the virus start to break out initially in popular holiday destinations and coastal regions. Then it fanned out across Europe as holiday makers carried it home with them. Despite all the work in controlling the virus to date, many European countries are again setting new records and facing new restrictions and lockdowns.
It need not have happened like this. International travel can take place safely, and the global economy needs it to, but first we need to understand and manage the risk associated with it.
Data informs risk
Data will play a key ongoing role in the restart of safe international travel as we seek to understand risk in our ‘new’ and ‘next’ normal. If we are to restart travel at any form of scale, risk based prioritisation will need to inform travel policy and procedures. As the spread of the virus evolves, the risk prioritisation and policy controls will need to dynamically adapt at a speed to match the changing state of the pandemic as we learn more about the nature of the COVID-19 virus. This requires a very different way of thinking about travel, new controls and technology.
Identifying risks, the threat they pose and how likely they are to be realised underpins evidence-based decision-making. Once the risk is understood, appropriate mitigation strategies can be put in place. The effectiveness of such strategies is again, informed by the analysis of data.
The data challenge
In any multi-jurisdiction and complex chain, collating data from many different sources and scoring based on the frequency, veracity and quality of data provided can prove difficult. We need to provide more than simple daily case numbers, testing rates and deaths to calculate a risk rating. Government policy, transport routes, travel methods and data reliability need to be factored in as well. These then need to be modelled and scored to produce a rating that is not only simple and meaningful to understand, but also statistically and clinically defensible.
The live risk map
We have launched our live COVID-19 travel risk interactive world map to demonstrate how this can be put together. The map uses advanced statistical techniques to synthesise the numerous statistics into a single Covid-19 travel risk rating for every country in the world, at both a national and, where available a state and county level.
For many end-users, this single country risk score is the most critical ingredient in their decision-making. The map brings the risk score to life. It’s value is in making it easy to understand where it is safest to go and where it is not safe to go with easy to understand colour coded indicators.
For other users who seek a deeper understanding and wider context to this score, we also provide additional statistical indicators and auxiliary scores to aid interpretation and coherence. The map allows you to sort and filter according to your particular focus and sensitivities. You can quickly drill into what is a complex data set to find exactly the risk information you need for easy comparison. Assess for yourself which you find more alarming in deciding where to go – cases, ratios, data reliability, government policy – or just be satisfied with our rating.
In the example below, we provide some of the direct Covid-19 statistics, as well as supplementary ratios, trend information, data quality scores, and contextual demographic data.
The processes by which goPassport collects, stores, synthesises and publishes the data has been in accordance with the best practice statistical principles outlined in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Data Quality Framework.
Insights revealed by the map
As at 16th October, the map confirms what many already know about the very high risks of North America, South America and much of Europe. However, it also shows many nuances that are possibly counter-intuitive, or often lost in the media.
For example, it shows that many countries such as Vietnam, that are much poorer than most Western countries, are controlling the risk better than might be expected. Also, although for most countries in Africa the data can not be considered very reliable, it is interesting that a few countries where the data is reasonably reliable are also appearing to manage the risk exceptionally well. It seems that many of these countries in South-East Asia and Africa that are managing Covid-19 well, are those same countries that have had prior epidemics such as SARS, Ebola or HIV. Their prior experience and capabilities in managing such outbreaks is serving them well.
Data-driven restart of international travel
goPassport is data-driven. The risk analytics underpin: the status portal that we provide to authorities; the individually tuned app as it guides the traveller; and the real time policy engine as it monitors compliance with changing government mandates. You can read all about the solution on our website.
The data in the map is one of the backbones for the goPassport platform. Data is used to inform our internal traveller Health Risk Flag scoring system which assesses the risk posed by a traveller in real-time.
We are committed to a process of continuous improvement and will roll out enhancements to reflect the availability of improved data sources. This includes from data we collect through the operation of the goPassport platform.
We look forward to the day international travel is safer because goPassport is in use around the world. Elevated risk will be with us for years until we have a reliable and widely distributed vaccine. goPassport is useful now, for any future epidemic and even natural disasters where guiding travellers away from risk is a key part of emergency management. A data-driven restart of international travel is almost here.
If you haven’t already, please go take a look at the live map.
Dr Martin Roberts, Klaus Felsche, Alec Gardner and Tony Ohlsson
About the authors
Dr Martin Roberts has over twenty years of experience in both government and private enterprises to transform and modernize their data strategies, platform, processes, products, and services. At AHPRA, Australia’s largest health regulatory body, he was the Senior Statistician for their Research Group . He has also worked at the Australian Bureau of Statistics where his work included: expert advisor on survey sample design and data management; trainer for internal staff on advanced statistical courses; and developer of a natural language search engine for Census statistics.
Klaus Felsche is an industry veteran with over forty years experience in defence and border protection. Klaus founded the first Advanced Analytics unit in Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This unit developed and deployed the analytics driven Border Risk Identification System including multiple components of the Next Generation Border Security System, the analytics based Risk Scoring Service for major visa platforms and the risk micro-service for the Electronic Travel Authority.
Alec Gardner is a business analytics leader with over 20 years experience across the financial services, communications and public sectors. In previous roles, Alec led teams assisting clients with digitisation via the application of cutting edge analytics, including helping to develop new approaches to innovation and discovery analytics. Alec has leadership experience in global product and services strategy, go to market and field enablement.
Tony Ohlsson has 30 Years experience in business analytics across many industry sectors including banking, telco and education. AlphaZetta draws from the expertise of 780 analytical consultants worldwide to build applications and process through remote virtual project management. The hallmark expertise is cybersecurity and data privacy.