Lockdown brings India to a standstill, Google report shows sharp drop in public movement

Lockdown brings India to a standstill, Google data shows sharp drop in public movement
Google signage is seen at Google headquarter in the Manhattan borough of New York City. Reuters
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Public movement in India at areas with restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, theme parks, museums, libraries, and movie theatres had declined by 77 per cent since the imposition of the countrywide lockdown by the Centre, according to Alphabet Inc's Google.

Google on Thursday released mobility reports for 131 countries showing whether visits to shops, parks and workplaces dropped in March, when many governments, including India, issued stay-at-home orders to rein in the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The company released the reports with charts that compare traffic between Feb 16 and March 29 to retail and recreational venues, train and bus stations, grocery stores and workplaces with a five-week period earlier this year. The data showed how the coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill.

The India report shows the public's response to the March 22nd's 'Janata Curfew' and the subsequent pan-India lockdown by the Centre.

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According to the 'COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports', the public movement to places like parks, shops, restaurants, bus, metro, and railway stations in India saw a huge decline by the end of March.

Visits to grocery stores and pharmacies fell by 65 per cent. Parks across the country witnessed a 57 per cent decrease in visits by the people.

Lockdown brings India to a standstill, Google data shows sharp drop in public movement
Lockdown brings India to a standstill, Google data shows sharp drop in public movement

The report also showed a decrease of 71 per cent in visits to public transit stations like bus stops, metro stations, and railway stations.

Lockdown brings India to a standstill, Google data shows sharp drop in public movement

Indians also visited less to their workplaces as there was a 47 percent dip in those visits.

Lockdown brings India to a standstill, Google data shows sharp drop in public movement

The only jump registered in the report was in the case of residential areas. Visits to the places of residence increased by 22 percent during the period.

Lockdown brings India to a standstill, Google data shows sharp drop in public movement

Data in Google's reports come from users who enabled Google's "Location History" feature on their devices. It said that in Google Maps, the company uses the same type of "aggregated, anonymised data showing how busy certain types of places are — helping identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded."

The analysis of location data from billions of Google users' phones is the largest public dataset available to help health authorities assess if people are abiding with shelter-in-place and similar orders issued across the world to rein in the virus.

Google said it published the reports to avoid any confusion about what it was providing to authorities, given the global debate that has emerged about balancing privacy-invasive location tracking with the need to prevent further outbreaks.

The data often correlated with the severity of outbreaks and the harshness and breadth of orders imposed by governments.

Balancing privacy

The company said it adopted technical measures to ensure that no individual could be identified through the new reports.

"These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies," Dr. Karen DeSalvo, chief health officer for Google Health and Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president for Google Geo, wrote in a blog post.

Google, which infers demographics from users' internet use as well as some data given when signing up to Google services, said it was not reporting demographic information. The company said, though, it was open to including additional information and countries in follow-up reports.

Google said consultations with officials in the US and the World Health Organization helped inform the data shared.

The company declined to comment on whether it has received any legal requests to share more detailed data to help with efforts to tackle the pandemic.

Facebook Inc, which like Google has billions of users, has shared location data with non-governmental researchers that are producing similar reports for authorities in several countries. But the social media giant has not published any findings.

Other countries

Italy and Spain, two of the hardest-hit countries, both saw visits to retail and recreation locations such as restaurants and movie theatres plunge 94%. The United Kingdom, France and Philippines had declines of more than 80%.

In the United States, where state responses have varied greatly, and in Australia, where good weather initially prompted many people to go the beach before social distancing measures were ratcheted up, the drops were less steep at under 50%.

In contrast, in Japan and Sweden, where authorities have not imposed harsh restrictions, visits to retail and recreation sites fell by roughly only a quarter. While in South Korea, which has successfully contained a large outbreak through aggressive testing and contact tracing, the decline was just 19%.

The coronavirus has infected more than 1 million people globally, and COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes, has killed 52,000, according to a Reuters tally.

There were no reports for China and Iran, where Google services are blocked.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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