Google data shows fall in crowds in Ireland as social distancing measures kick in

Community mobility reports gather data through Google Maps

New data released by Google shows a declines across the board in people attending public places in the Republic, as restrictions aimed at reducing the transmission of coronavirus take hold.

Google’s community mobility reports, aimed at public health officials but accessible by everyone, could help authorities determine if social distancing introduced is being implemented effectively.

The reports use the same data that is used to determine the busiest periods for businesses on Google’s search listings. The information is gathered from users of Google Maps who have their location history turned on and have opted to share it with the company. The data is anonymised, and covers areas such as retail, recreation, groceries, pharmacies, parks, transit (transport) stations, workplaces and residential.


The report for Ireland showed an 83 per cent fall compared with normal trends in the number of people attending retail and recreational places such as restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, theme parks, museums, libraries, and cinemas. Grocery shops showed a decline of more than 30 per cent, while workplaces saw a decline of 52 per cent.


However, there was a spike in the number of people recorded visiting these facilities in the days following the initial introduction of social distancing measures by the Government – which would coincide with the sunny weather that saw people head to parks and beaches all over the country.

Since then, however, there has been a marked decline in crowds measured in all categories – apart from residential, where the numbers have risen.

The data is broken down on a county-by-county basis, with Dublin showing a decline of 85 per cent in retail and recreation footfall as of March 29th, with workplaces down 58 per cent compared to the baseline data. Cork showed a decline of 81 per cent in recreation and retail, with workplaces down 51 per cent.

A blog post written by Jen Fitzpatrick, Google's senior vice president of its Google Maps unit and chief health officer at Google Health Karen DeSalvo said trends would cover several weeks, and the company planned to add more countries to the current 131 included in the reports.


“In Google Maps, we use aggregated, anonymised data showing how busy certain types of places are-helping identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded. We have heard from public health officials that this same type of aggregated, anonymised data could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat Covid-19,” the post said.

“Starting today we’re publishing an early release of our Covid-19 Community Mobility Reports to provide insights into what has changed in response to work from home, shelter in place, and other policies aimed at flattening the curve of this pandemic. These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies.”

Google’s data does not show the number of visits made to each category of place.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist