Following its initial appearance in December 2019, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) quickly spread around the globe. Here, we evaluated the role of climate (temperature and precipitation), region-specific COVID-19 susceptibility (BCG vaccination factors, malaria incidence, and percentage of the population aged over 65 years), and human mobility (relative amounts of international visitors) in shaping the geographical patterns of COVID-19 case numbers across 1,020 countries/regions, and examined the sequential shift that occurred from December 2019 to June 30, 2020 in multiple drivers of the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases. Our regression model adequately explains the cumulative COVID-19 case numbers (per 1 million population). As the COVID-19 spread progressed, the explanatory power (R2) of the model increased, reaching > 70% in April 2020. Climate, host mobility, and host susceptibility to COVID-19 largely explained the variance among COVID-19 case numbers across locations; the relative importance of host mobility and that of host susceptibility to COVID-19 were both greater than that of climate. Notably, the relative importance of these factors changed over time; the number of days from outbreak onset drove COVID-19 spread in the early stage, then human mobility accelerated the pandemic, and lastly climate (temperature) propelled the phase following disease expansion. Our findings demonstrate that the COVID-19 pandemic is deterministically driven by climate suitability, cross-border human mobility, and region-specific COVID-19 susceptibility. The identification of these multiple drivers of the COVID-19 outbreak trajectory, based on mapping the spread of COVID-19, will contribute to a better understanding of the COVID-19 disease transmission risk and inform long-term preventative measures against this disease.
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