Fresh virus surge harms mobility even during ‘unlock’, Google data shows3 min read . Updated: 14 Jul 2020, 01:03 PM IST
Richer states with sharper spikes in virus cases and deaths saw only a limited rise in mobility over the past month, slowing the pace of economic recovery in the country
India has now completed over a month of gradual “unlocking". Malls and tourist sites are opening to visitors, more flights are in the skies, and marketplaces are waking up. But there are significant differences in public mobility levels across regions, Google data shows.
Across the country, states which reported a faster surge in virus cases or deaths since May saw much lower mobility compared to states which reported a slower rise in cases or deaths, a Mint analysis of the spread of the virus and mobility levels shows. Local lockdown measures to combat the virus have also restricted mobility in some of the worst-affected regions.
Take Tamil Nadu, for instance. In April and May, it had one of the best mobility levels as compared to normal times. Come June, when deaths began rising faster and a lockdown was declared in the capital city of Chennai, the state saw a sudden decline in movement.
Among the 17 states with relatively high case-loads, there were only three outliers. Kerala saw below-average return to normal mobility despite a slower spread of the virus during May and June. In contrast, West Bengal and Bihar reported a higher-than-average recovery in public movement even when their case-load grew fast.
Public movement here refers to Google footfalls data at five location types—groceries and pharmacies, workplaces, parks, transit hubs, and retail and recreation spots. Nationally, public movement had recovered to 56% of normal levels by the end of May, but within the next month, improved no further than 64% of normal.
At a time when jobs have been hit, workplaces fared the worst in recovery. As many as 26 out of 35 states and Union territories had already attained their best post-lockdown workplace footfall levels by 16 June—which means, footfalls at workplaces declined again thereafter. In three states—Odisha, Goa and Mizoram—recovery peaked in the last week of May, during the last phase of the lockdown.
For each state, Google reports the gap between everyday’s footfalls and a “baseline" level. This baseline, derived from the 3 January-6 February period, signifies normal times. The more negative a figure is, the worse mobility was hit, and to reach normal levels, it must hit zero. The data is based on GPS signals from smartphones and hence captures mobility in high-smartphone usage localities better than others.
Richer states have borne the brunt of the pandemic so far. This has hit public movement in these hubs of economic activity, endangering the country’s economic recovery. In Maharashtra and Delhi, for instance, footfalls at workplaces remain at nearly half of normal levels.
Poorer states are closer to normal than the rest. In Bihar, which has the lowest per-capita GDP, mobility at workplaces is the closest to normal. Like other states, Bihar, too, has seen a weak recovery in June, but footfalls at workplaces are now just 14% below par.
The mobility trends do not differ greatly from other key indicators of economic health. After a crash in April, most metrics have recovered. But poorer states have seen a faster recovery compared to the wealthier ones. States with lower per-capita incomes, such as Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, saw significant improvement in their GST (goods and services tax) collections in June compared to the year-ago period.
In contrast, richer states such as Delhi, Gujarat, and Maharashtra saw declines in their GST collections compared to the year-ago period. Electricity consumption in these states declined at least 15% in June compared to the year-ago period, data from the National Load Despatch Centre showed.
Another indicator of resumption in demand, vehicle registrations, is still at dismal levels for all large state economies. Overall in India, the number was 42% lower in June compared to the year-ago period. Among the 12 largest state economies, Maharashtra fared the worst, at -63%, followed by West Bengal (-52%) and Gujarat (-50%), data from the ministry of road transport showed.
Mobility trends for July will possibly show further uptick for some states. But as Tamil Nadu’s example shows, that recovery cannot be taken for granted if new spikes in coronavirus cases continue. Assam, Odisha, and Karnataka are all grappling with a surge in cases and deaths over the past few weeks, and localized lockdowns have already brought down mobility levels in these states sharply in the first week of July, latest Google data showed.
Amid all this, workplace footfalls, in particular, may continue to recover the slowest, as companies get into the habit of remote work, staggered work shifts, and relaxations for older staff.