Mobility Comparison
  • Google data suggests that South Africans are - finally - starting to stay home more as the country's third wave takes hold.
  • There have been fewer visits to restaurants, cafes, cinemas, and offices in the last month.
  • But Gauteng, currently in the grips of a devastating third wave, has seen among the smallest change in habits.
  • Three weeks after Gauteng officially entered its third wave, visits to malls, cafes, and cinemas were still the second-highest recorded in the country, down by only 2%.
  • Whereas in the Western Cape, these visits were down by 16%.
  • Early data does, however, suggest that Gauteng is, finally, starting to work from, and stay, home a bit more.
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Google's latest mobility report suggests that South Africans are slowly starting to spend more time at home, and less time at restaurants, shopping centres, cinemas, and the office, as the country's third wave of Covid-19 infections takes hold.

Apple, which collects its own mobility data, has also recorded drops in movement across the country. The company says that Johannesburgers are currently driving 39% less, while Capetonians are driving 40% less. Across the country, however, South Africans are only spending 28% less time in their cars.

Nationally, Google data suggests visits to places like parks and beaches have also dropped across the board, and public transport usage is 20% lower - although June's public holiday and colder winter weather may, to a degree, have helped keep some of these numbers artificially low.

South Africa Mobility Stats
South Africa Mobility Stats

The general drop in mobility comes as the country grapples with its third wave of Covid-19 infections - but the data, released periodically by Google to identify movement trends, suggests that Gauteng, the country's current Covid-19 epicentre, took a while to catch on.

Gauteng saw a spike in visits to places of "retail and recreation" - restaurants, shopping centres, and cinemas - in late May. This spike came more than one week after the Gauteng premier officially announced that the province had entered its third wave.

Around the same time, visits to parks, and the use of public transport, were also at a monthly high, while workplace visits started to wane.

Some of these figures only came off their monthly highs two weeks into June - although some dips, like public transport usage and workplace visits, were likely due to the mid-month public holiday.

Between 7 May and 18 June, however, Gauteng's retail and recreation was down 8% off its normal baseline. Visits to parks were down 24%, and public transport in the province down 18%. 

Remove the public holiday from the equation, however, and the figures are even worse - retail and recreation were down just 2%, weeks after the official third wave announcement. And by then, 17% of people appeared to have abandoned their offices to work from home.

Gauteng Mobility Stats
Gauteng Mobility Stats

This seemingly indifferent response to the third wave in Gauteng is in contrast to the Western Cape if Google's mobility data is to be believed. 

The Western Cape officially entered its third wave on 10 June, but many of the province's mobility trends had started declining before then - perhaps due to the early warning signalled by Gauteng, and the Western Cape's early and the province's devastating experiences with its early second wave.

By last week, Western Cape visits to places of retail and recreation for the month were down by 20%, while parks and beach trips were down by 43%, as was public transport usage. 

Remove the public holiday from the Western Cape's equation, and the province's residents were still seemingly cutting back on public activities - visits to restaurants and cafes were down 16%, parks, beaches, and public transport usage down by around 40% each, and workplace visits were 15% lower than usual.

Western Cape Mobility Stats
Western Cape Mobility Stats

Other provinces in South Africa have also shown declines in mobility leading into the country's third wave - though none have seen shifts towards staying home and away from recreational activities in more than single figures.

The Eastern Cape, which too had a devastating second wave experience, appears to be behaving largely "business as usual" as far as mobility data is concerned, with just a 6% cut in retail and recreation visits.

Eastern Cape Mobility Stats
Eastern Cape Mobility Stats

And Limpopo has seen a near-universal increase in mobility.

mobility stats
North West Mobility Stats

But, even with the early warnings to avoid public spaces and gatherings, Gauteng's 2% drop in visits to places such as cafes, restaurants, shopping malls, and cinemas was beaten only by the North West, which saw a 1% drop.

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