As the province continues to grapple with record-high COVID-19 case numbers, mobile data obtained by Environics Analytics points to a marked increase in travel during the week leading up to the lockdown.
Many regions now seeing the highest infection rates were among those with the most frequent travelers.
“We get a sample of consent-based anonymized mobile devices,” said Vito De Filippis, director of business development with Environics Analytics.
“We do use it to project the movement of people outside of their home postal codes, and into destinations like malls, attractions, retail shops.”
It comes three weeks after the Ontario government announced a provincewide shutdown would commence on Boxing Day.
The Ford government came under great scrutiny for not taking that step sooner.
Now, according to Environics’ mobile tracking data, Ontario residents who were already under lockdown at the time used those last few days to shop until they had to stop.
“People were thinking that it was coming and there was a lot of mobility, specifically coming out of the regions of Toronto, York and Peel, to just get out and get their last-minute shopping done — maybe drop off presents at friends and families’ places,” said De Filippis.
Some ventured a considerable distance to get those deals, descending on Toronto Premium Outlets in Halton Hills and Mapleview in Burlington.
According to the data, 13,409 people from Toronto converged on the Oshawa Centre between Dec. 19 and 25. That number of shoppers marks a year-over-year increase of 155 per cent.
“What I think this definitely shows is the timing, in terms of when these lockdowns happen, can have a big impact,” De Filippis said.
“Even just giving people the leeway of just a few days can create a massive amount of mobility.”
The matter of mobility toward malls is not the biggest concern for infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch.
“If that mobility points in the direction of people were travelling around to visit friends or relatives and are going into other people’s homes without masks for holiday gatherings, that’s a much bigger problem,” he said.
Last week, a Leger poll found nearly half of those surveyed did visit with people outside of their household.
In the meantime, data from Environics shows mobility did decrease following the shutdown. However, the company is awaiting more recent data to see whether that continued.