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Google data shines light on whether coronavirus lockdowns worldwide are working

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Alphabet Inc’s Google has published charts showing how the coronavirus has brought hard-hit Italy to a standstill, led to runs on grocery stores around the world.

It said that it has prompted a stark drop in going-out between Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day.

The analysis of location data from billions of Google users’ phones is the largest public dataset available to help health authorities assess if people are abiding with shelter-in-place.

Report says similar orders issued across the world to rein in the virus.

The company released reports for 131 countries with charts that compare traffic from Feb. 16 to March 29 to retail and recreational venues, train and bus stations, grocery stores and workplaces with a five-week period earlier this year.

Google said it published the reports to avoid any confusion about what it was providing to authorities, given the global debate that has emerged about balancing privacy-invasive location tracking with the need to prevent further outbreaks.

The data often correlated with the severity of outbreaks and the harshness and breadth of orders imposed by governments.

Italy and Spain, two of the hardest-hit countries, both saw visits to retail and recreation locations such as restaurants and movie theaters plunge 94 per cent.

The UK, France and Philippines had declined of over 80 per cent while India, which went into a sudden 21-day lockdown on March 25, was also notable at 77 per cent.

In the U.S., where state responses have varied greatly, and in Australia, where good weather initially prompted many people to go the beach before social distancing measures were ratcheted up, the drops were less steep at under 50 per cent.

In contrast, in Japan and Sweden, where authorities have not imposed harsh restrictions, visits to retail and recreation sites fell by roughly only a quarter.

While in South Korea, which has successfully contained a large outbreak through aggressive testing and contact tracing, the decline was just 19 per cent.

The data also underscore some challenges authorities have faced in keeping people apart.

Grocery store visits surged in Singapore, the UK and elsewhere as travel restrictions were set to go into place.

Visits to parks spiked in March in some San Francisco Bay Area counties under lockdown in California, forcing them to later put the sites off limits.

The data also underscored how the mood of people around the world has shifted.

In New Orleans, during its annual Mardi Gras celebrations Feb.16 to 25, which has with hindsight been criticised for helping spread the virus, there were off-the-chart increases in traffic to transit stations, parks and businesses.

However, three weeks later in Dublin, heart of St. Patrick’s holiday celebrations, traffic was down at retail and recreational venues as the country ordered big events cancelled.

Within countries, there were wide gaps in behaviour by region.

California, which was the first in the U.S. with a statewide lockdown, cut visits to retail and recreation locations by half.

In New York State, the slide in such visits was gradual as officials waited to impose strict curbs but they eventually fell 62 per cent.

By contrast, Arkansas, one of the few states without a sweeping lockdown, had the smallest decline at 29 per cent.

According to a Reuters tally, the coronavirus has infected over 1 million people globally, and COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes, has killed 52,000.

Edited By: Abiodun Oluleye/Isaac Aregbesola
(NAN)