The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 forced governments to implement lockdown policies to curb the spread of the disease. These policies explicitly encouraged homeworking, hence reducing the number of commuters with the implicit assumption that restricting peoples’ movement reduces risk of infection for travellers and other people in their areas of residence and work. Yet, the spatial interrelation of different areas has been rarely addressed both in the public discourse and in early accounts of the various consequences of COVID-19. Our study proposes an analysis of COVID-19 mortality in England between March and June 2020 introducing a so-called structural mobility gravity in commuting flows between Local Authority Districts. The results of our spatial regression models are consistent with a reduction in COVID-related mortality after the introduction of a national lockdown in March. Our analyses also suggest that higher shares of people commuting – in general and particularly by public transport – are associated with higher mortality. We suggest that considering spatial interactions through commuting or other motivations to travel may offer interesting perspectives on the trade-off between health and economic activity during lockdowns.
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