South Africa enacted a national lockdown in March to protect against the unmitigated spread of the coronavirus and its resulting illness COVID-19.
The South African lockdown has been praised as ruthlessly efficient when compared to delayed responses of many other countries. But are South Africans heeding the call to stay at home?
Google’s Community Mobility Reports are helping to shed light on this. The company has used location data from users who have opted in to tracking to see how movement trends have changed in different regions around the world.
How Google’s Community Mobility Reports work
The insights provided by Google’s location data show how movement to different categories of locations has changed over time. These include places such as retail centres, recreational facilities, supermarkets, pharmacies, parks, public transit stations, workplaces, and residential areas.
Google has made the data available in hopes of aiding public officials in tracking the success of their social distancing measures. Reports exist for the majority of countries around the world.
“We have heard from public health officials that this same type of aggregated, anonymized data could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat COVID-19.”Google statement
The data is anonymized and reports will be updated over time to provide the latest insights.
Data showing recent movement trends is compared with the baseline movement trends. In South Africa’s case, the baseline data is mostly from February and early March. South Africa’s first coronavirus case was announced on March 5.
Of course, this data can’t give us a full picture of movement of all citizens, since it relies on users who have opted into location tracking. This means that many users, especially those who don’t use Google Maps due to high local mobile data costs, will not be represented.
However, it does give some insight into the movements of many South Africans.
Are South Africans staying at home?
So what does the data show?
According to Google’s mobility report, there have been significant changes in movement in South Africa.
There has been a 79% drop in movement to retail and recreation locations, including places like restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, theme parks, museums, libraries, and movie theaters.
In terms of grocery and pharmacy locations, there has been a 60% drop in movement. South Africans are still allowed to go out for groceries and to buy medicine, however government encourages people to make trips as infrequent and as short as possible.
Many shops are also limiting the number of customers allowed inside at a time, and multiple adult members from the same household are often not allowed to shop together.
There has also been a 55% drop in visits to parks, including national parks, public beaches, marinas, dog parks, plazas and public gardens.
When it comes to transit stations, there has been an 80% drop in movement to public transport stations.
Workplaces have seen a 49% drop in movement. Meanwhile, residences have seen an increase of 24%.
The data shows that many South Africans are in fact staying at home, with a major drop in movement in a variety of different public locations.
Of course, some movement in locations is expected as essential service workers travel between work and their homes.
If you want to keep up-to-date with official information regarding South Africa’s coronavirus news, check out this story on how to access SA’s COVID-19 updates without needing airtime.