Home >News >India >What Google tells us about lockdown impact in India’s biggest cities

In its first week, the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus has meant only one thing for different kinds of business establishments that have been allowed to remain open in the five major metros: pullback. Although every kind of establishment is seeing a pullback in walk-in customers, the magnitude of the decline varies. It’s the least in the case of food and grocery stores, followed by diagnostic laboratories. In the case of banks and petrol pumps, however, the pullback is severe, shows Google data.

March 22 (Sunday) was the day of the first national level lockdown or a ‘janata curfew’. On the same day, the Central government announced a lockdown in 75 districts that had registered a Covid-19 case. State governments followed it with their own advisories, with the indication being this was till March 31. All five major metros—Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata—were in this list, and pulled down their shutters.

Then, beginning March 25 (Wednesday), the Central government extended the lockdown to the entire nation, increased its duration to three weeks, and also made it more stringent. Thus, for all of last week, most commercial and private establishments in these five cities were closed.

The exceptions were services classified as “essential", a list that included banks, hospitals, diagnostic laboratories, food and grocery stores, vegetable vendors and petrol pumps. Did their business drop? If so, by how much? In order to gauge how a near-ban on movement of people affected how much these establishments were accessed, we used the ‘popular times’ data from Google.

For each of the five metros, we chose four points of interest (PoI). These four PoIs were a food and grocery store, a bank branch, a petrol pump and a diagnostic laboratory (for three cities). For each of these PoIs, we measured footfalls 12 times in a day, once every hour beginning 9-10 am and ending 9-10 pm. We did this last week from Monday (March 23) to Friday (March 27).

Google ‘popular times’ data gives a measure of footfalls in any establishment at every hour relative to its peak for the “past several weeks". This historical peak is ascribed a value of 100, and every other value, historical or current, is calibrated to that.

For example, one of the places in our sample was an Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) petrol pump on Baba Kharak Singh Marg in Connaught Place, New Delhi. Its historical peak (value of 100) is Monday between 11 am and noon. On the Monday that was March 23, it recorded a value of 11—a drop of 89%.

Such drop in footfalls have been par for course during the past week. Our automated script generated 726 points of complete data (out of a possible 1,080 points) from Google. Each point is effectively the footfall value for an establishment at a certain hour. Of these 726 points, as many as 603 points, or 83% of the entries, showed a negative value, with the decline going all the way to 100%.

Banks and petrol pumps were the worst affected. The accompanying charts show a collation of the hourly data into daily data, and the average change for each day of the week over their historical highs. For banks and petrol pumps in all five cities, every day showed a massive decline.

To be sure, data from a single PoI is not representative for a segment for the city. But it gives us a slice of what happened to business at the PoI after the lockdown.

Interestingly, the data also shows that in 17% of the hourly periods for which we have complete data, footfalls increased. A majority of this increase in footfalls happened in food and grocery stores, especially in the More supermarket in NGO Colony in Chennai.

Google ‘popular times’ data shows the historical peak of this More supermarket is Sunday evening. Further, on normal days, it does not register much activity during the daytime, and is the busiest between 6 pm and 9 pm. In almost every hour of the first week of lockdown, it saw people movement spike. On Monday morning, it was registering values that it normally registers in its busy evening period.

The chosen stores in the other four cities also saw footfall increase on Monday. But unlike the Chennai More store, it tailed off in subsequent days. The decline in food and grocery stores through the week was significantly less than that of petrol pumps and banks.

Slotting in somewhere between banks/petrol pumps and food stores were the diagnostic centres. They, too, are smarting over a significant loss in business amid this pandemic fear.

The data shows that even services classified as “essential" are experiencing acute pain, and the remaining two weeks of this lockdown will test them further. For the rest of the economy, things are in a far worse shape.

Point of interest locations chosen for the analysis:

Delhi: State Bank of India (SBI), Malviya Nagar; Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) petrol pump, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Connaught Place; More, Malviya Nagar; Dr Dangs Lab, Hauz Khas

Mumbai: SBI, Borivali East; IOC petrol pump, Ghatkopar-Mahul Road, Ghatkopar East; Reliance Smart, Malad West; SRL Dr. Avinash Phadke Labs, Shivaji Park

Bengaluru: SBI, Malleshwaram; SVM Fuel Station, Prestige Tech Park; More, Koramangala; SRL Diagnostics, Jayanagar

Chennai: SBI, Whannels Road, Egmore; IOC petrol pump, Anna Salai, Teynampet; More, NGO Colony, Adambakkam

Kolkata: SBI, Sector 1, Salt Lake City, Bidhannagar; BPCL petrol pump, Chavlpatti Marg, Bidhannagar; More, 2/2 School Road, Birati


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