A lockdown has been declared in many parts of the world. But it is one thing to declare a lockdown and another to see it being followed. Search giant Google has stepped in to help public health officials combat the COVID-19 crisis. It is releasing what it terms “Community Mobility Reports,” which contain information about public movements across “different high-level categories of places.” These include retail and recreation, groceries, pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential areas. The Community Mobility Reports are accessible to the public and are free to download.

corona crisis: are people staying indoors? ask google! - google coronavirus
Image: AndroidPolice

Remember how Google Maps can show you how busy a restaurant is, what is the time when the Metro is most likely to be crowded and so on? Well, it is the same data that is now being used to let health officials and administrations in which areas are crowded and which are not. And this information is critical in these times when the best way to combat COVID-19 remains social distancing. It would be particularly informative for concerned people to find out just how effective lockdown measures actually are.

The reports will cover 131 countries and regions. In most cases, the data is shown for the entire nation, although in some, we also get data for specific regions. For instance, at the time of writing, there was only data for India, and not for cities in the country; but you can get information for not just the United States, but also for a number of its states (Florida, Louisiana and so on). Google has said that it is working on adding more countries and regions to these reports in the coming days to make them more helpful to public health officials across the world.

The reports show trends over several weeks, with information for up to 48 to 72 hours before the issuing of the report. The reports will also show data in terms of percentage increase or fall in visits to the covered places – the exact number of visits is not going to be shown.

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So for India, the data as on 29 March 2020 indicates a steep decline in mobility, as compared to the baseline which has been set on 16 February 2020. Here are the main details:

  • Visits to retail and recreation places down by 77 percent.
  • Visits to grocery stores and pharmacies down by 65 percent.
  • Visits to parks are, however, down by 57 percent, which would seem to indicate that people are still going there, albeit in lesser numbers.
  • Visits to transit stations are down by a massive 71 percent, not surprising given that Metros and local trains have been shut down.
  • Visits to workplaces, interestingly, are down, but by a relatively modest 47 percent, which would seem to indicate a large number of people still going out to work.
  • And as for staying at home, visits to residential places have gone up by 22 percent. Again, we expected a larger figure here.

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While the reports use information from Google Maps, Google has stressed that the user’s privacy will be protected, with no personal information like location, contacts or movements will be made available in these reports. Of course, the point to remember here is that the data reflects trends among those people who have turned on location sharing on their devices – this might not a hundred per cent accurate reflection of the situation on the ground but can give health officials a very good indication of how matters are progressing, especially in urban areas.

You can download the Community Mobility Reports from here. They are available in PDF format.

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