Revealed: The Kiwi towns following the lockdown rules the best

Kiwis have cut down unnecessary shopping trips by more than 90 percent since going into lockdown, according to data collected by Google

More than half of our smartphones are powered by Google's Android operating system, many of us taking advantage of GPS and Wi-Fi tracking to plot commutes and get around. 

"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," Google Health's Karen DeSalvo said in a blog post.

"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."

To prevent the spread of the virus behind COVID-19 - which has killed nearly 60,000 people worldwide already - non-essential businesses have been closed and Kiwis have been urged to stay home, where possible.

Google's data shows we're largely following those instructions, though whether it's enough to prevent further deaths remains to be seen. 

Trips to restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, theme parks, museums, libraries and movie theatres - most of which have been deemed non-essential - started dropping in mid-March, and plummeted 91 percent once the lockdown was in place.

Trips to parks, beaches, gardens and plazas have dropped 78 percent, gradually declining over the past two weeks. 

We're also visiting public transport hubs 84 percent less often, and workplaces 59 percent less.

Google data
Photo credit: Google

Trips to supermarkets and pharmacies are down 54 percent since the lockdown began. In the week prior however, it wouldn't surprise anyone that Google's data shows an almost 40 percent rise in visits, as panic-buying set in. A small spike can also be seen in the data around the time New Zealand's first confirmed case of COVID-19 was revealed. 

"This information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings," said Dr DeSalvo.

"Similarly, persistent visits to transportation hubs might indicate the need to add additional buses or trains in order to allow people who need to travel room to spread out for social distancing."

Photo credit: Google

How we compare to the rest of the world

New Zealand is doing much better than the United States, where the virus is running rampant thanks to a lack of consistent messaging and action across different states. There's only been a 47 percent drop in visits to non-essential businesses there, and 38 percent drop in people going to workplaces. 

Australia is also struggling to get citizens to stay home, with a drop of only 45 percent in non-essential trips. 

The United Kingdom was slower to respond than New Zealand, with initial plans to let the virus run its course abandoned after experts told the government that would leave hundreds of thousands dead. The UK has since dropped non-essential trips 85 percent, Google's data shows.

Italy was slow to respond too, and has been among the hardest-hit countries in the world. But the message has now got through, recording a 94 percent drop in non-essential travel. Visits to pharmacies and supermarkets are down almost as much - 85 percent.

Comparing Kiwi cities

Google's data also shows how different cities across New Zealand are coping. Auckland, for example, has shown a greater dip in people going to workplaces - 64 percent - than most places. Gisborne and Southland for example only saw drops of 47 and 48 percent respectively.

Nelson and the West Coast have been especially good at following the rules, with Google recording a 100 percent drop in visits to non-essential businesses and 81 percent to parks. Auckland is the worst for both, recording 89 and 70 percent drops respectively.

Nelson district!
Well done, Nelson district! Photo credit: Getty

Aucklanders and Wellingtonians aren't avoiding parks as much as the rest of the country, visits down only 70 and 63 percent respectively - the Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Northland, Otago, Southland, Taranaki, Waikato, Marlborough, West Coast and Nelson all recorded drops of over 80 percent. Tasman led the way, with an 89 percent drop.

Tasman residents have also managed to cut their grocery and pharmacy shopping back the most, recording 67 percent fewer trips since the lockdown began. Gisborne's been the naughtiest in that regard, only cutting back 48 percent - but at the same time, they've recorded a 100 percent drop in visits to non-essential businesses and 88 percent to parks.

As for following advice to stay at home, Otago leads the way, with a 39 percent increase in time spent at home.

Data concerns

Though Google has been criticised for its widespread collection of users' data, the company says in this case it's only being collected from those who have the Location History setting turned on - it's off by default. 

"Users who have Location History turned on can choose to turn the setting off at any time from their Google Account, and can always delete Location History data directly from their Timeline," said Dr DeSalvo.

Without a vaccine or confirmed treatment available, experts say social distancing and minimising non-essential travel is the only way we have to fight the disease at present.