Derry City and Strabane shoppers' habits have changed less during coronavirus lockdown than elsewhere in UK, Google data reveals

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Derry City and Strabane residents are following social distancing advice and avoiding shops, data from Google suggests – but they are still lagging behind people in other parts of the UK.

NHS England’s medical director has warned now is not the time to get complacent, as he urged people to continue to follow government guidance to stay at home.

However, the British Independent Retailers Association warns of the long-term impact to the nation's High Street, with many successful businesses now fighting for survival.

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Google's figures, which use location data to chart trends in people's movement, show footfall at retail and recreation establishments fell by 80% in Derry City and Strabane in the six weeks to the end of March compared to two months earlier.

Footfall in Derry and Strabane council area is down 80 per cent, according to data from Google.Footfall in Derry and Strabane council area is down 80 per cent, according to data from Google.
Footfall in Derry and Strabane council area is down 80 per cent, according to data from Google.

This was below the average reduction across the UK of 85%, when compared to a previous five-week period at the start of the year.

The British Independent Retailers Association said many successful businesses were fighting for survival, predicting that consumers’ increased use of online shopping is a trend that is here to stay.

Chief executive officer Andrew Goodacre said independent shops have already had to show great resilience and flair, utilising online deliveries to stay in business.

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“However, we are also seeing many more previously successful businesses closed down and fighting for survival,” he said.

“It is good to see the government initiatives that have been taken but we are concerned that the support is not reaching the retailer quick enough.”

Though there is no fixed date for when the lockdown will end and social distancing rules relaxed, Mr Goodacre said habits have already been formed and internet sales will continue to trump the High Street.

Where once they represented 20% of all retail sales, they now make up 85% and are “unlikely to come back down very quickly after the crisis”, he added.

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​Google's figures also show a 25% rise in activity in places of residence in Derry City and Strabane compared to a 54% reduction in places of work, as more people work from home. However, Google added there was not enough data to do a complete analysis of residential settings in the area.

​Visits to public transport hubs were also down by 60% – but this was below the UK average of 75%.

Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, said we are “continuing to see people adhering” to government policy – particularly on public transport.

Speaking recently at a daily coronavirus press conference, he said: “The sun might be out, but that doesn’t mean you should be out. We all need to make sure we resist the temptation, whatever the weather.

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“This is not the time to be complacent and to take our foot off the pedal. We need to continue to comply with the instructions because that will continue to translate into a reduction in the number of hospitalisations.”

Derry City and Strabane also saw 39% less footfall at groceries and ​pharmacies, and 63% less in parks and green spaces.

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said using anonymous data like this from Google, “will help improve our understanding of the impact social distancing measures are having.”