Home >News >India >Mobility lower in richer, high-burden states, Google data shows
A man checks his mobile phone as he sits on a cement block tied to concertina wire laid across a road in front of pharmacy shops during an extended lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Srinagar, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Ismail (REUTERS)
A man checks his mobile phone as he sits on a cement block tied to concertina wire laid across a road in front of pharmacy shops during an extended lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Srinagar, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Ismail (REUTERS)

Mobility lower in richer, high-burden states, Google data shows

Google’s mobility reports indicate that states that were hit worst by the coronavirus had lesser public movement than the others

On 25 March, India began one of the strictest lockdowns in the world to curb the spread of the coronavirus, even when it had just around 500 infections. Stringent measures were imposed across all states until 14 April, and then extended thrice, with gradual relaxations. However, the latest Google data on mobility shows that the adherence to the lockdown has varied across states, and was the best in places with the worst outbreaks.

The data shows that visits to access essential services such as groceries and pharmacies have consistently increased since the first few days of the lockdown, possibly because supply chains recovered from early snarls. Footfalls rose towards the end of the first phase of the lockdown, which ended on 14 April, and have continued to rise across the country.

Google provides footfall data for six common location types such as workplaces, grocery and pharmacy, parks and transit locations in its community mobility reports. The data is available for all states since mid-February. Footfalls were compared with those between 3 January and 6 February, when outbreaks outside China were still limited. A figure of minus 60% for a public location meant that for every 100 people who went there on that day of the week in the reference period, only 40 did on the given date. The data is based on GPS signals from smartphones and hence captures mobility in high-smartphone usage localities better than others. Yet, in the absence of any credible official estimate, it provides an alternative metric to measure the extent of mobility across different parts of the country.

In some of the most badly hit states, such as Delhi, Maharashtra, and Gujarat, the visits to grocery stores and pharmacies were far lower compared to the national average. Nationally, footfalls at such shops during the 15 April - 5 May period were around 45% less than normal, as opposed to 60% less in the 25 March - 14 April period. This national difference of 15 percentage points was just 7.3 percentage points in Delhi’s case.

Meanwhile, states with lower case loads, such as Chhattisgarh, Kerala and the more populated Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, returned to groceries and pharmacies much more liberally in the second phase of the lockdown.

Interestingly, the drop in mobility was the least for parks for the entire first phase, with as many as 50 people still visiting parks for every 100 who did so during the baseline period. This drastically dropped after the lockdown was extended in mid-April. Kerala, which had flattened its curve by then, was the only state where footfalls for non-essential activities - parks, and retail and recreation spots - improved after 14 April. Along with Kerala, Mizoram also saw an increase in movement in parks during the second half of April, but not so much in retail and recreation.

As expected, people were found spending more time at places of residence during the lockdown period as compared to the baseline duration. Nationally, for every 100 hours people spent in homes earlier, the duration rose to around 128 hours during the lockdown.

However, there was a state-wise variation here as well. Highly urban states, which were much likelier to become hotspots, saw people staying at home longer than in states with larger rural populations. In Delhi for example, the figure hovered around 132 hours during the lockdown, while in rural-dominated Bihar, it was around 115.

Workplaces saw severely low turnouts in high caseload states such as Delhi and Maharashtra. Workplace mobility improved slightly in the second phase of the lockdown. In Delhi, the improvement in footfalls at workplaces was marginal - less than 2 percentage points. In comparison, in Goa, the improvement was 18 percentage points, and it was nearly 11 percentage points in Kerala.

The lockdown was extended but with several relaxations after 3 May in the third phase of the lockdown, and have been eased further in the fourth phase starting Monday. Fresh data in the coming weeks will help us gauge to what extent India’s struggling economy is getting back on track.

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