Movement across Sydney during Covid outbreak slows to Melbourne lockdown levels
Movement around Sydney has reduced to similar levels to Melbourne during its recent short lockdown, and almost as much as its mammoth 112-day lockdown in 2020, data shows.
Critics of Sydney’s current lockdown have called it “soft”, and say more people should be staying home. But data from Google shows visits in the past few weeks to retail, recreational sites, parks and workplaces in the City of Sydney are down more than 60% from pre-Covid levels.
Currently the number of trips being planned through public transport app Citymapper are just 12% of those before the pandemic. And Sydney’s transportation hubs are seeing 80% less traffic than pre-Covid.
Transport for NSW live data currently shows around 30% fewer Opal card tap-ons than the previous week – which was already lower than before the lockdown – echoing the massive fall in trips planned through Citymapper over the preceding weeks.
The data also show movement dropping off slightly before lockdowns are announced, as people curtail movement in the face of increasing cases.
When central Sydney entered lockdown in late June, the city saw a drop in the number of visits to workplaces, retail and transport. Visits to Sydney parks fell again more recently as restrictions have tightened.
Victoria entered lockdown in late May, which also coincided with a drop in the number of people visiting retail, grocery, work and transport locations. Restrictions were lifted on 11 June, and movement has since largely recovered to “pandemic normal”. Visits to retail and transport hubs in the City of Melbourne did reach a slightly lower level during this period than Sydney is currently seeing.
Neither of the recent lockdowns in Melbourne or Sydney saw visits to key locations drop as much as they did in Melbourne during its long 2020 lockdown. At that time, visits to retail briefly dropped by 90%, transportation hubs by 94% and parks by almost 100%.
Only residential locations have seen an increase over pre-Covid levels, as more of New South Wales comes under movement restrictions. Facebook’s movement data compares the location history of Facebook users to a baseline in February 2020.
There has been a 40-50% increase in people staying within their neighbourhoods in most of greater Sydney. Current movement is most curtailed in suburbs surrounding Sydney’s CBD, where restrictions have been in place for longer, but most of New South Wales (where data is available) is seeing less movement than elsewhere in Australia.
Greater Melbourne saw similar levels of movement at the peak of its extended 2020 lockdown.
It can take months for movement and public transport patronage to recover after an extended lockdown. Victoria was still operating at just more than half of its pre-Covid levels in May, more than six months after its extended lockdown.
University of Sydney associate professor Matthew Beck has been studying the impact of Covid on transport and says the effects of the current Sydney lockdown will likely linger.
“There will be more wariness around modes of transport and situations where there are large numbers of people, particularly people unknown to an individual. The Delta variant is particularly transmissible and I think with the change of tone from the premier, along with the startling numbers being reported, caution will be present for some time, even after lockdown ends.
“The nexus will be the availability of vaccination and, for many, a demonstrable effectiveness of said vaccine in a domestic context. What is also unknown yet, is the impact of many of the transmission chains being linked to household-to-household contacts. That might give people even more cause for restraint.
“Our data indicates that protecting the health of others in the family, and the more vulnerable in the community, are bigger motivators than protecting a person’s own health.”
Sydney’s public transport patronage had only recovered to just over 60% of pre-Covid levels by May. Some of this is likely also due to changing habits. As work from home becomes more accepted, Beck said, there is less need to move around – especially in certain suburbs.
“Whilst we were trending upwards in terms of travel and activity, a large percentage of movement is for work and leisure,” Beck said.
“This is particularly true with public transport, though car use had somewhat returned. Disruption to community sport and wariness about large group functions also contributes to lower levels of travel activity.”
Guardian Australia previously found road congestion was one of the first modes of transport to recover after a lockdown, with most cities recovering close to pre-Covid levels. However, even before the lockdowns, other modes of transport have not come close to returning to pre-Covid levels.