Visits to public places in Haryana declined by 91% in April, shows Google data

Google’s Community Mobility Reports, launched in early April to depict changing mobility trends in a post-Covid world, published a state-wise mobility data for India on Friday.
Migrant workers gather near Mini Secretariat on Saturday, on hearing of government plans to send them home.
Migrant workers gather near Mini Secretariat on Saturday, on hearing of government plans to send them home.
Updated on May 03, 2020 04:26 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Gurugram | ByPrayag Arora Desai, Gurugram

Mobility data published by Google shows that the ongoing lockdown, to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), has been effective in keeping at least a portion of India’s population indoors. In Haryana, for example, visits to parks and other public spaces declined by 91% between March 15 and April 26, as opposed to visits made between January 3 and February 6 (which has been taken as the baseline period). The data, which only captures smartphone users who have allowed Google to track their location history, also shows that movement to residential areas in the state increased by 22% after the outbreak.

Google’s Community Mobility Reports, launched in early April to depict changing mobility trends in a post-Covid world, published a state-wise mobility data for India on Friday. The data shows a significant drop in the number of trips people made to recreational and work-related destinations, such as parks, grocery stores, pharmacies, transit stations and offices, while visits to residential locations increased.

In Haryana, the data also shows an 86% decline in visits to restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, theme parks, museums, libraries, and movie theatres. During the same period, movement to transit stations, including metro stations and bus stands, declined by 70%. Visits to food markets, grocery stores and pharmacies declined by 46%, while visits to works places dropped by 42%, showed the data.

Nationwide, the data shows an 86% reduction in trips to recreational destinations, 51% to grocery stores and pharmacies, 68% to parks, 66% to transit stations and 41% to workplaces, along with a 22% increase in trips to residential areas. Experts said this is not surprising, given strict curbs on movement imposed by the lockdown and the absence of pubic transport.

“We have heard from public health officials that this same type of aggregated, anonymised data could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat Covid-19,” Google had said in a statement at the time of launching it’s mobility data in early April. “This dataset is intended to help remediate the impact of COVID-19. It 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,” the report for India states.

Experts said that while the data can be valuable for policy makers, it must also be viewed with certain caveats. Divij Joshi, lawyer and policy expert at an international not-for-profit technology company, said, “Such kind of data could be used by authorities to see how and where people are moving. This could help them understand where social distancing measures need to be enforced more strictly, for example. But the actual utility of the data is still to be seen. Also, Google has captured only those individuals who own smartphones and have allowed Google to track their location history.”

Citizens using feature phones without internet connectivity have been left out of the data. “There is a large section of the population whose mobility patterns are not being noted, even though they are changing. Smartphone penetration in India is only between 30 to 40%, so Google’s data set covers only a certain section of the population, with most smartphone users living in urban areas,” Joshi added.

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