As people in Malta continued to observe stringent social distancing measures, with some 118,000 individuals in quasi-lockdown, the island’s mobility trends have shifted dramatically.
A report compiled by Google, analysing the mobility changes for every country between February 16 and March 29, gives a snapshot of the people in Malta’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The report uses data which the company collects through its applications, such as Google Maps.
Where have people (not) been visiting?
Unsurprisingly, places like restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, museums, libraries, and movie theatres took the biggest hit in recent weeks.
According to Google’s data, visits to these places decreasing by a whopping 76 per cent when compared to an average day during the first five weeks of the year.
Schools and universities were shut a few days after the first COVID-19 cases were registered in Malta. Since then, the government has imposed a number of other measures, including the shutting down of all shops selling non-essential goods. Those providing non-essential services, such as hairdressers and gyms, were also ordered to close.
Meanwhile, as of Saturday, anyone over 65 or who is considered to be vulnerable has been instructed to stay home and to only go out if absolutely necessary.
Mobility trends for public transport hubs, such as bus stations, have also seen some drastic changes, going down by over half - 57 per cent - when compared to the previous weeks.
And as more people shifted to working from home to avoid gathering at workplaces, a downward trend was also noticed here - with visits to workplaces down by 49 per cent.
Similarly, parks, beaches, piazzas and other public places have also become less popular. Google reported a 45 per cent decrease in visits to these places.
Yet while the numbers registered by Google throughout mid-February and the beginning of March do not show any notable spikes for places of retail, workplaces and transit stations, it seems many were gearing up for a lockdown by spending more time than usual outdoors.
According to the data, visits to public places spiked by about 70 per cent at the end of February and only started going down after the first week of March which is around the time the first COVID-19 case was registered in Malta.
A decrease in visits to groceries and pharmacies has also been registered, though this was only down by 38 per cent, suggesting people were still going out to get their basic needs.
So are people staying at home?
This seems to be the case, with Google data showing a roughly 20 per cent increase in mobility trends for homes. As was the case with the other places, the changes started occurring as soon as the first cases were reporting in early March.
How did Google work out the trends?
Google says it calculated the insights based on data from users who have opted-in to Location History for their Google Account and so the data represents a sample of their users.
The data is aggregated and anonymised, and the company says it is being made public for a short while only.
The report shows trends over several weeks, with the most recent data representing for Malta being that gathered on March 29.
The baseline is the median value, for the corresponding day of the week, during the five-week period between January 3 and February 6.
What data is included in the calculation depends on users’ settings, connectivity, and whether this meets Google’s privacy threshold.
“If the privacy threshold isn’t met (when somewhere isn’t busy enough to ensure anonymity) we don’t show a change for the day,” Google said in its report.
In a blog post, Google said it hoped the data could help inform the decision-making of public health officials during the pandemic.
"Understanding not only whether people are traveling, but also trends in destinations, can help officials design guidance to protect public health and essential needs of communities," the company said.
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