Data shows dramatic change in where people go

South African’s visits to places like shopping centres, taxi ranks and other public transport centres and places of work have dropped by up to 79%, according to Google’s mobility data.

The multinational technology company released data of 131 nations reflecting how people’s movement has changed from February 16 to March 29, the period in which most countries instituted lockdowns in a bid to restrict the spread of Covid-19.

South Africa’s 21-day lockdown instructs people to stay at home and only go out when necessary. Many people are working from home.

Google released the report to help people and public health officials understand responses to physical distancing regulations. “This report shouldn’t be used for medical diagnostic, prognostic or treatment purposes. It also isn’t intended to be used for guidance on personal travel plans,” it said.

South Africa announced a national lockdown on March 26. The 79% drop in movement is at the backend of the Google research, but indicates how absolute the lockdown has been in most places, with a dramatic shift in where people go when they leave their homes.  

Movement in the grocery and pharmacy category — supermarkets, food warehouses, farmers’ markets, specialty food shops and pharmacies — has dropped by 60%. 

Travelling to work has decreased by 49%.

On the other hand, with an increase in movement of 24%, more people seem to be at home when compared with times before the Covid-19 lockdown.

Regarding the collection of information, Google said: “Insights in these reports are created with aggregated, anonymised sets of data from users who have turned on the location history setting, which is off by default.”

The company said no personal identifiable information such as a person’s location, contacts or movement is revealed.


The changes were calculated using the same kind of aggregated data used to show popular times for places in Google Maps.

As of April 8, worldwide there were 1 282 931 confirmed cases of Covid-19, 72 774 confirmed deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.

On April 7 — World Health Day — the United States, which has the most positive Covid-19 cases globally, had 400 540 Covid-19 cases and 12 857 deaths, according to statistics from Worldometer. Google data reflected that movement to retail and recreation areas has dropped by 47%.

Italy, which has 135 586 cases and 17 127 deaths according to Worldometer, Google data shows a 94% drop in traffic to retail and recreation areas. Grocery and pharmacy traffic has dropped by 85%.

Tshegofatso Mathe is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G

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Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.
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