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How Google Maps is helping fight the Coronavirus pandemic

We launched state-level reports a few months back, and they have been widely used to measure the effectiveness of Covid-19 response policies implemented by the state government bodies.

Anal Ghosh, senior program manager, Google India,
Anal Ghosh, senior program manager, Google India,

Google launched the Covid-19 Community Mobility Reports to help public health officials respond to this pandemic while adhering to stringent privacy protocols. These reports use aggregated, anonymised data from users who have turned on the Location History setting to provide insights into changes in mobility patterns across different types of public locations. “These reports are being used by authorities (government agencies, health officials, researchers, etc.), to understand trends and patterns since the onset of lockdown,” says Anal Ghosh, senior program manager, Google India, in a recent interaction with Sudhir Chowdhary. Excerpts:

How do these reports work and what are the benefits of using them?
We launched state-level reports a few months back, and they have been widely used to measure the effectiveness of Covid-19 response policies implemented by the state government bodies. And we have now launched district-level reports across all the states, for regions that contain a statistically significant level of data available.

How it works:

  • Anyone can go to the Covid-19 Community Mobility Reports website, pick a country or a state, and download a PDF that charts the percentage increase or decrease of movement across six different categories of places—retail and recreation, supermarkets and pharmacies, parks, public transport, workplaces, and residential.
  • One can also download the global CSV file which has granular day-wise data since launch and can be used for deep-dive analysis;
  • The reports show a percentage increase or decrease, rather than the absolute number of visits, against a baseline of January 2020 data. These reports provide national trends for 130+ countries. For India, the reports are available for all states and UTs, and for a set of districts/cities within them.

Is the data that is available to the government and the public the same? How are you engaging with the government on this?
Data in the community mobility reports remains the same for everyone. Since the reports are public and there is no difference in the data made available to the public and the government, what we do is:

  • Alert govt agencies at the Central and state government level, including local authorities at the district and city level about the existence of the reports.
  • We answer any questions they may have pertaining to the information in the reports.
  • We highlight how foreign governments, NGOs, and other third parties are using the reports around the world and in India.

Google announced the launch of a new feature on Google Search, Assistant, and Maps – information on Covid-19 testing centres. How does this feature work?
In June this year, we announced the launch of a new feature on Google Search, Assistant, and Maps to help users find information on Covid-19 testing centres near them. The feature is available in English and eight other languages in India.

Here’s how it works:
While making a coronavirus-related search (eg. “coronavirus”, “coronavirus testing”, “covid-19 testing”) on Search and Google Assistant, users will see a ‘Testing’ tab on the search results page providing a list of nearby testing labs along with key information and guidance (government versus private, helpline numbers, prescription required, etc.) before using their services.

On Google Maps, when users search for keywords like “covid-19 testing” or “coronavirus testing” they will see a list of nearby testing labs, with a link to Google Search for the government-mandated guidelines.

How many labs has Google integrated on Search, Assistant, and Maps and how many cities does it cover?
We have been updating the data on a real-time basis, and so far we have integrated over 1,500 testing labs on Search, Assistant, and Maps in 500+ cities, across 36 states and Union territories. The feature is available in English and eight other languages in India—Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, and Gujarati.

Were there any government bodies involved with the launch of these features?
We work closely with multiple central and state government authorities to help people with the most accurate and authoritative information related to the Covid-19 pandemic. For the data on food and night shelters, we worked very closely with MyGov and different states (for example, Delhi, UP) and city authorities (Hyderabad, Chennai) and made it available for our users. For the Covid-19 testing labs, we have been working with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and MyGov to source and update data on a continuous basis.

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