Mapping app location data shows how virus spread in China

Mapping app location data shows how virus spread in China
The previously unknown coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002 and 2003. (AFP)
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Updated 09 February 2020

Mapping app location data shows how virus spread in China

Mapping app location data shows how virus spread in China
  • Research reveals the US, Hong Kong and Australia are among top 10 travel destinations from high-risk Chinese cities

SHANGHAI: For weeks after the first reports of a mysterious new virus in Wuhan, millions of people poured out of the central Chinese city, cramming onto buses, trains and planes as the first wave of China’s great Lunar New Year migration broke across the nation. Some carried with them the new virus that has since claimed over 800 lives and sickened more than 37,000 people.

Officials finally began to seal the borders on Jan. 23. But it was too late. Speaking to reporters a few days after the the city was put under quarantine, the mayor estimated that 5 million people had already left. Where did they go?

Analysis of domestic travel patterns using map data from Chinese tech giant Baidu shows that in the two weeks before Wuhan’s lockdown, nearly 70 percent of trips out of the city were within Hubei province. Baidu has a map app that is similar to Google Maps, which is blocked in China.

Another 14 percent of the trips went to the neighboring provinces of Henan, Hunan, Anhui and Jiangxi. Nearly 2 percent slipped down to Guangdong province, the coastal manufacturing powerhouse across from Hong Kong, and the rest fanned out across China. The cities outside Hubei province that were top destinations for trips from Wuhan between Jan. 10 and Jan. 24 were Chongqing, a municipality next to Hubei province, Beijing and Shanghai.

The travel patterns broadly track with the early spread of the virus. The majority of confirmed cases and deaths have occurred in China, within Hubei province, followed by high numbers of cases in central China, with pockets of infections in Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing as well.

“It’s definitely too late,” said Jin Dong-Yan, a molecular virologist at Hong Kong University’s School of Biomedical Sciences. “Five million out. That’s a big challenge. Many of them may not come back to Wuhan but hang around somewhere else. To control this outbreak, we have to deal with this. On one hand, we need to identify them. On the other hand, we need to address the issue of stigma and discrimination.”

He added that the initial spread of travelers to provinces in central China with large pools of migrant workers and relatively weaker health care systems “puts a big burden on the hospitals ... of these resource-limited provinces.”

Baidu gathers travel data based on more than 120 billion daily location requests from its map app and other apps that use Baidu’s location services. Only data from users who agree to share their location is recorded and the company says data is masked to protect privacy. Baidu’s publicly available data shows proportional travel, not absolute numbers of recorded trips, and does not include trips by people who don’t use mobile phones or apps that rely on Baidu’s popular location services.

Public health officials and academics have been using this kind of mapping data for years to track the potential spread of disease.

A group of researchers from Southampton University’s WorldPop research group, which studies population dynamics, used 2013-2015 data from Baidu’s location services and international flight itineraries to make a predictive global risk map for the likely spread of the virus from Wuhan.

It’s important to understand the population movements out of Wuhan before the city’s lock down, said Lai Shengjie, a WorldPop researcher who used to work at China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Maybe they hadn’t developed symptoms but could transmit the virus. We need to look at destinations across China and the world and focus on the main destinations and try to prepare for disease control and prevention,” he said.

The last trains left Wuhan the morning of Jan. 23, cutting off a surge of outbound travel that had begun three days earlier, Baidu data shows. Nearby cities rushed to impose travel restrictions of their own. From Jan. 23 to Jan. 26, the 15 cities that Baidu data shows received the most travelers from Wuhan — a combined 70 percent — all imposed some level of travel restrictions.

Other nations soon followed suit, including the United States, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and the Philippines, all of which have sharply restricted entry for people coming from China. Others, like Italy and Indonesia, have barred flights.

WorldPop researchers found that travel out of Wuhan has historically ramped up in the weeks before Lunar New Year’s Day. Based on historical travel patterns, they identified 18 high-risk cities within China that received the most travelers from Wuhan during this period. They then used 2018 flight itineraries from the International Air Transport Association to map the global connectivity of those cities.

They note that travel patterns after restrictions started rolling out on Jan. 23 will not match historical norms and that the cities they identified are initial ports of landing; travelers could have subsequently moved elsewhere.

The top 10 global destinations for travelers from high-risk Chinese cities around Lunar New Year, according to their analysis, were Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, the US, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Australia.

In Africa, Egypt, South Africa, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya topped the list.

The African continent is particularly vulnerable because of the weaker health infrastructure in many countries, and the longer cases go undetected, the more likely they are to spread.

“Capacity is quite weak in many African health services,” Dr. Michel Yao, emergency operations manager for the World Health Organization in Africa, told the AP. This new virus “could overwhelm health systems we have in Africa.”

The Africa Centers for Disease Control, formed three years ago in response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, said screening has been stepped up at ports of entry across Africa. Egypt began screening passengers from affected areas in China on Jan. 16. Over the next eight days, Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mauritius and Kenya all put screening systems in place. No confirmed cases have been reported.


Music business: Is musical talent the new commodity?

Shakira (L) signed the rights of her music titles to Hipgnosis Songs Fund and in recent months Bob Dylan sold the rights to 600 of his songs to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMG) in a deal believed to be worth more than $300 million. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
Shakira (L) signed the rights of her music titles to Hipgnosis Songs Fund and in recent months Bob Dylan sold the rights to 600 of his songs to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMG) in a deal believed to be worth more than $300 million. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
Updated 59 min 42 sec ago

Music business: Is musical talent the new commodity?

Shakira (L) signed the rights of her music titles to Hipgnosis Songs Fund and in recent months Bob Dylan sold the rights to 600 of his songs to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMG) in a deal believed to be worth more than $300 million. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
  • What does this new way of doing business mean for the music industry?

BERN: Monetization of an artist’s craft has always been a tricky issue. It is also a bifurcated one: Very few top names earn big money and the vast majority just get by, if even that.

That holds true in all art forms, but particularly in the music industry. In 2017 the top 1 percent of recording artists dominated income in all categories — 78 percent of music sales, 68 percent of live performances, and 56 percent of merchandise.

Very few recording artists operate at that level. The chosen few have recently started taking control of their future earnings power by signing mega deals on their music rights. In recent months Bob Dylan sold the rights to 600 of his songs to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMG) in a deal believed to be worth more than $300 million.

Others have followed. Shakira, Neil Young, Lindsey Buckingham, Debbie Harry, and Mark Ronson signed the rights to all or part of their music titles to Hipgnosis Songs Fund. This catapulted Hipgnosis, which was founded and is run by former Elton John manager Merck Mecuriadis, into the super league when it comes to buying rights and providing upfront liquidity to the stars of the music business.

It is a win-win move for both parties allowing the artist to capitalize on their name recognition while they are on top of their game, while ideally constituting little risk for the music publishers, because they only choose musicians whose name recognition they expect to be of enduring quality.

The risk, which looks manageable, is taken by the publisher, which is different to the Bowie bonds of the late 1990s, which were self-liquidating debt instruments with a 10-year tenor that used future revenues of the recording asset as collateral.

In both cases the artist aimed to monetize future revenue streams rolling the risk of future performance onto an end-investor, which in the case of Bowie was the general public who decided to invest in the bonds and in the case of the recent transactions a music publisher taking on equity risk.

Hipgnosis, which has become a force to be reckoned with thanks to these transactions, has been doing something right for some time. It floated on the London stock exchange in 2018, immediately reaching a market cap of £1.25 billion ($1.71 billion). Its revenues for the first six months of 2020 reached £50 billion.

The deals constitute tremendous earnings power for the company — as long as the popularity of songs and artists remain, which is a portfolio risk because the company signed on several artists.

What does this new way of doing business mean for the music industry? It turns a few names into a sought-after bankable commodity, leaving the rest of the pack behind with no negating, and very little, earnings power.

This phenomenon always existed but was exacerbated when the importance of streaming services for distributing music rose, because Apple, Amazon, and Spotify markedly tilted the earnings power in favor of the publishers rather than the artists.

Taylor Swift fought against that trend in 2018, when her condition to sign on with UMG was that the publisher shared the proceeds of the sale of its Spotify stake with all the artists. This was remarkable, because Swift did not just optimize her own earnings but allowed the company’s whole stable of artists to share in the windfall.

For the smaller artists, earning money has not become any easier since then. It also had its pitfalls for the superstars. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, with its restrictions on live performances, has taken a further toll on the industry.

In that sense the recent deals allow the artists to take their mind off new earnings structures, as the industry is dealing with the vagaries of a pandemic while new forms of disseminating music evolve. The superstars can now focus on their craft — or whatever else takes their fancy.

The question remains, what this means for the great masses of lesser-known or unknown artists and how they can earn a living? Most great names have started small. Will this new way of financing the top 1 percent help or hinder smaller artists to develop into the next Shakira or Neil Diamond while they struggle to keep body and soul together lacking any bargaining power?

The new deals are great for the top 1 percent of artists and for the publishers. These deals are a real win-win for stars and publishers. They are big business with a capital B.

  • Cornelia Meyer is a Ph.D.-level economist with 30 years of experience in investment banking and industry. She is chairperson and CEO of business consultancy Meyer Resources. Twitter: @MeyerResources