Google Mobility, Covid’s Most-Tracked Indicator, Is Signing Off


In 2020 when the pandemic first struck, policymakers, analysts, economists (and journalists) found looked to unravel the damage the pandemic was fast unleashing on health, and on the economy.

What was considered high-frequency data felt dated because of the pace at which the situation was changing. Most countries, including India, announced lockdowns to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

In stepped Google Mobility.

It was based on anonymised and aggregated mobility data from Google Maps users and analysed visits and length of stay at different places: from shops and parks, to workplaces and transport hubs, over the pre-pandemic baseline.

Mobility was considered to correlate with economic activity, though the link is said to have weakened as people the world over learned to adapt to the pandemic.

The community mobility reports became a closely watched economic indicator, along with others such as e-way bills and electricity consumption data among others, emerging as a set of “concurrent indicators”.

With the pandemic receding globally, the community mobility reports are no longer being updated as of Oct. 15, 2022, according to its page. All historical data will remain publicly available.

Mobility trends continue to rise for all places, with visits to supermarkets and pharmacies now having risen the most at 60% above the baseline on a seven day-moving average basis.

While people remained wary of returning to workplaces and places of retail and recreation, both exceeded pre-pandemic baseline earlier this year. The mobility trend for:

  • Places of retail and recreation is now 16% above the baseline on a seven-day moving average basis.

  • Grocery and pharmacy is 60% above the baseline.

  • Parks is 62% above the baseline.

  • Transit stations is 28% above the baseline.

  • Workplaces is 32% above the baseline.

  • Residential places is 11% above the baseline.

Along with nation-wise data, Google published state- and district-wise data, providing deeper insights on mobility in the first, and the following waves of the pandemic.

In July 2020, in a conversation with BQ Prime, Anal Ghosh, senior program manager at Google India, spoke about the report’s design and where it could help.

Google had been working with the government and public health officials on how to combat the pandemic’s spread, and how they could use their products to help. While working with public health officials across countries, “we realised that this could really help them frame lockdown strategies and social distancing norms,” Ghosh had said.

The reports continue to be used to assess the impact of the pandemic and design policy responses. In September this year, the Reserve Bank of India published a study on the diverging impact of the pandemic on state-wise economic activity, using Google Mobility trends.

The study found that differences in states’ economic structure played a key role. States with a higher share of agriculture and mining in their gross state value added witnessed a lower contraction in economic activity than those with a higher share of industry and services, necessitating differential policy responses.

Beyond the pandemic, recently, when Bengaluru was inundated, the data also showed just how much mobility was hit. Visits to places of retail and recreation came at 12.2% below the baseline between Aug. 25 and Sept. 7, 2022, compared to 7.6% below the baseline in the preceding two weeks.

Visits to places of work were 13.6% below the baseline between Aug. 25 and Sept. 7, compared to 12.5% below the baseline the preceding two weeks.


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