TransCode: Uncovering COVID-19 transmission patterns via deep learning

Jinfu Ren, Mutong Liu, Yang Liu, Jiming Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Background: The heterogeneity of COVID-19 spread dynamics is determined by complex spatiotemporal transmission patterns at a fine scale, especially in densely populated regions. In this study, we aim to discover such fine-scale transmission patterns via deep learning.

Methods: We introduce the notion of TransCode to characterize fine-scale spatiotemporal transmission patterns of COVID-19 caused by metapopulation mobility and contact behaviors. First, in Hong Kong, China, we construct the mobility trajectories of confirmed cases using their visiting records. Then we estimate the transmissibility of individual cases in different locations based on their temporal infectiousness distribution. Integrating the spatial and temporal information, we represent the TransCode via spatiotemporal transmission networks. Further, we propose a deep transfer learning model to adapt the TransCode of Hong Kong, China to achieve fine-scale transmission characterization and risk prediction in six densely populated metropolises: New York City, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Berlin, and Tokyo, where fine-scale data are limited. All the data used in this study are publicly available.

Results: The TransCode of Hong Kong, China derived from the spatial transmission information and temporal infectiousness distribution of individual cases reveals the transmission patterns (e.g., the imported and exported transmission intensities) at the district and constituency levels during different COVID-19 outbreaks waves. By adapting the TransCode of Hong Kong, China to other data-limited densely populated metropolises, the proposed method outperforms other representative methods by more than 10% in terms of the prediction accuracy of the disease dynamics (i.e., the trend of case numbers), and the fine-scale spatiotemporal transmission patterns in these metropolises could also be well captured due to some shared intrinsically common patterns of human mobility and contact behaviors at the metapopulation level.

Conclusions: The fine-scale transmission patterns due to the metapopulation level mobility (e.g., travel across different districts) and contact behaviors (e.g., gathering in social-economic centers) are one of the main contributors to the rapid spread of the virus. Characterization of the fine-scale transmission patterns using the TransCode will facilitate the development of tailor-made intervention strategies to effectively contain disease transmission in the targeted regions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Number of pages20
JournalInfectious Diseases of Poverty
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases

User-Defined Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Deep transfer learning
  • Densely populated regions
  • Human mobility and contact behaviors
  • Meta-population
  • Spatiotemporal transmission dynamics and heterogeneity
  • TransCode


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