It was visible all around us, while schools and offices were emptying.
And it was also visible to Google, because the location data sent by our phones showed a rapid and profound change in our lifestyle.
Starting in the second week or so of March, Canadians’ phones started spending less time at work, on public transit and in retail stores, and more time at home, our phones told Google .
The data showed that we also started shopping much less than normal. The reduction was around 60% for destinations like restaurants and cinemas, but only about 35% for grocery stores and pharmacies.
“It is less attractive than going to the grocery store,” said Sylvain Charlebois, professor at Dalhousie University. “Most grocery stores, especially during rush hour, you have to wait outside. You come in and you feel this pressure to do as much as you can in the time available. “
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“Because of the queues, because of what’s going on with online grocery shopping, people are actually forced to plan. If you have to plan, you don’t have to go to the grocery store as often. “
Restaurants were only allowed to serve take-out meals to customers in much of the country. Since people use this option, they – and their phones – spend far less time in restaurants than if they sat down for a meal.
“You show up at the counter, you try to distance yourself physically from everyone and you want to get out as soon as possible. You are not going to have a cat or anything like that. You are just going to leave. ”
Google reporting data comes from users who have enabled Google’s Location History feature on their devices. The company said it has adopted technical measures to ensure that no one can be identified.
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Google warns that the accuracy of location tracking and their ability to place places into categories (such as knowing that your phone’s location is a grocery store) varies from region to region, so the society discourages the use of data to compare countries with each other. .
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Data shows that Canadians spend 16% less time in parks than in mid-February, but these data are more difficult to interpret.
Coronavirus has changed the way Canadians use outdoor space, but in a contradictory way.
Some provinces, such as Nova Scotia, have completely closed the parks, while some cities have left them open as outdoor spaces, while closing things like playgrounds.
On the other hand, public health officials say it is good to take walks outside, as long as people practice social distance from the people they don’t live with. And with many other emergency power outlets closed, there is little else to do.
In addition, the weather is much more welcoming than it was in mid-February, which somewhat confuses the data.
Here is how daily lifestyles have changed in Quebec, at least so far the most affected province:
Globally, analyzing location data from billions of Google user phones is the largest public data set available to help health authorities assess whether people are complying with on-site shelters and prescriptions. Similar emitted around the world to curb the virus.
The company has released reports for 131 countries, including Canada, with charts that compare traffic from February 16 to March 29 to retail and entertainment locations, bus and train stations, grocery stores and work with a five week period earlier this year.
Google said it released the reports to avoid confusion about what it was providing to the authorities, given the global debate that has arisen over the balance between tracking the invasive location and the need to prevent further outbreaks.
The data were often correlated with the severity of the epidemics and the harshness and extent of government orders.
Italy and Spain, two of the hardest hit countries, saw their visits to retail and entertainment stores such as restaurants and cinemas plunge by 94%. The United Kingdom, France and the Philippines registered declines of over 80%, while India, which experienced a 21-day abrupt closure on March 25, was also notable at 77%.
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In the United States, where state responses varied considerably, and in Australia, where the good weather initially prompted many people to go to the beach before social distancing measures were stepped up, the declines were less marked less than 50%.
In contrast, in Japan and Sweden, where the authorities have not imposed severe restrictions, visits to retail and leisure sites have only decreased by about a quarter. While in South Korea, which managed to contain a large epidemic through aggressive testing and contact tracing, the drop was only 19%.
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The data also highlights some of the challenges that authorities have faced in keeping people out. Grocery store visits increased in Singapore, the United Kingdom and elsewhere as travel restrictions were to come into effect.
The data also highlights how the mood of people around the world has changed. In New Orleans, during its annual Mardi Gras celebrations from February 16 to 25, which has been criticized with hindsight for helping to spread the virus, there have been increases outside traffic at transportation stations in common, parks and businesses.
But three weeks later in Dublin, at the heart of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, traffic fell in retail and leisure establishments, after the country ordered the cancellation of major events.
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Google declined to say if it had received legal requests to share more detailed data to help fight the pandemic.
Facebook Inc., which, like Google, has billions of users, has shared location data with non-government researchers who produce similar reports for authorities in several countries. But the social media giant has released no results.
With Reuters files
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