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Using Google mobility data to measure the impact of the reopening of non-essential retail, outdoor hospitality venues and other outside attractions

Created 22nd April 2021

Visits to recreation and retail sites in the North East have increased to their highest level since early November, according to North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s analysis of the latest Google mobility data.

Since the start of the pandemic, Google has been producing community mobility reports to support the region’s economic response plan based on data from users who have opted into location history for their Google account. For each day it compares the number of visits to different types of places in a local area, with the average for that day during the first five weeks of 2020.

In England, the latest Google mobility data gives information about the initial impact of Step 2 in the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, which was introduced on 12 April. This included the re-opening of non-essential retail, outdoor hospitality venues and outdoor attractions.

According to analysis of the data by the North East LEP, in the week ending Friday 16 April, the number of visits to North East retail and recreation sites was at its highest level since early November. This was still only 70 per cent of the level in early 2020 but was about 20 percentage points higher than in the previous week.

Retail and recreation sites are defined by Google to exclude supermarkets and pharmacies, which are within a separate category. Visit numbers to supermarkets and pharmacies in the North East in the latest week had reached levels that were actually slightly above those in the first weeks of last year, and were at their second highest weekly level of 2021 (only the run-up to Easter had higher levels).

The easing of restrictions on 12 April also resulted in visits to North East workplaces and public transport hubs being at their highest level since, respectively, mid-December and mid-October of 2020. Numbers of visits to both types of site were, however, still more than 30 per cent below levels in early 2020.

The Google report measures hours at home rather than numbers of visits and the latest release shows that, in the North East, hours spent at home in the week ending 16 April were at their lowest level since early October. They were still about 9 per cent higher than in the pre-COVID weeks of early 2020.

Levels of retail and recreation visits in the week ending 16 April were at their highest so far in 2021 in all seven North East local authority areas. In five of the seven, they were at their highest since early November while in the other two, Sunderland and Gateshead, levels were slightly below those in the run up to Christmas. The impact of COVID-19 controls on retail and recreation visits continues to be biggest in Newcastle where the latest levels were at about 56 per cent of early 2020 levels. In the other six local authority areas, the figure was between 70 and 81 per cent.

Google do not publish indices for LEP areas, so we have produced North East LEP area data by combining the indices for County Durham, Northumberland and the Tyne and Wear metropolitan area after weighting them to reflect population size. In the week ending 16 April, the latest retail and recreation visit index value for Tyne and Wear was very similar to that for all five other metropolitan areas in the North and Midlands, with visits in all six being at 65 to 70 per cent of early 2020 levels. In comparison, the equivalent figure for Greater London was only 52 per cent.

The North East Data Hub has a Google mobility index page that is regularly updated. It includes interactive and downloadable charts, links to data and a summary of key information from the latest release. The data source is one of several that provide more timely indicators of the impact of COVID-19 on the North East economy than can be provided by regular headline data releases. These can be accessed via the North East Data Hub’s COVID-19 economic indicators page.

By Eddie Smith, economic analyst at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Created 3 weeks ago, [last edited 3 weeks ago]