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A man in a face mask gets off a street car in downtown Toronto on March 24. Every province recorded a significant drop in weekend movement in the 10-week period the Environics study looked at.

GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

One in six people ventured beyond their neighbourhood last weekend, according to a report that lays out a dramatic drop in Canadians’ movement as people adjust to stringent stay-home advisories during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two months ago, by comparison, one in three people were leaving the immediate vicinity of their home on weekends.

The report, compiled by marketing firm Environics Analytics from a database of anonymized location data from 2.3 million mobile phones, examined the movement patterns of Canadians over the past 10 weekends, from February to the first weekend in April. The analysis looked for people who went roughly 100 metres beyond their home postal code for a minimum of 30 minutes on at least one day of the weekend, then tied those postal codes to demographic information, such as age and income, to come up with profiles for the kinds of people leaving their homes.

Story continues below advertisement

The findings provide a remarkable picture of how well the country is adhering to the call to stay home, which Canadians are struggling to heed that advice and potentially whether that may have an impact on infection rates.

Percentage of Canadians

out and about on weekends

40%

March 9

First confirmed

COVID-19 death.

35%

March 12

Provinces start

banning large

gatherings.

30%

Feb. 1

4 cases

confirmed.

25%

March 18

Federal government

closes Canada-U.S. border

to all non-essential travel.

20%

15%

April 2

More than 11,000

cases confirmed.

10%

2/1

8

15

22

29

3/7

14

21

28

4/4

WEEKEND DATES

Percentage of Canadians

out and about on weekends

40%

March 9

First confirmed

COVID-19 death.

35%

March 12

Provinces start

banning large

gatherings.

30%

Feb. 1

4 cases

confirmed.

25%

March 18

Federal government

closes Canada-U.S. border

to all non-essential travel.

20%

15%

April 2

More than 11,000

cases confirmed.

10%

2/1

8

15

22

29

3/7

14

21

28

4/4

WEEKEND DATES

Percentage of Canadians out and about on weekends

40%

March 9

First confirmed

COVID-19 death.

35%

March 12

Provinces start

banning large

gatherings.

30%

Feb. 1

4 cases

confirmed.

25%

March 18

Federal government

closes Canada-U.S. border

to all non-essential travel.

20%

15%

April 2

More than 11,000

cases confirmed.

10%

Feb. 1

8

15

22

29

March 7

14

21

28

April 4

WEEKEND DATES

Environics assembled its database of mobile phone locations with information from data providers that collect it through apps people choose to install on their phones. To ensure none of the location information is personally identifiable, the companies randomly skew the exact locations. In this case, the data were aggregated to the postal code level.

Every province recorded a significant drop in weekend movement in the 10-week period, as governments clamped down, banning large gatherings and shutting down businesses deemed non-essential. Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon were excluded from the analysis because of the lower number of cellphone users captured in those areas.

In Quebec, which has more than 10,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the most anywhere in the country, weekend out-and-about rates plummeted from 30.9 per cent in early February to just 13.8 per cent by early April. The lowest rates came from Prince Edward Island, where only 11.3 per cent of people went beyond their home postal codes last weekend.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Toronto and the University Health Network in Toronto, found last weekend’s out-and-about rates reasonable, given many people are likely shopping for groceries, exercising or going to work.

Ultimately, the most important metric is the number of new infections a day, he said. For instance, British Columbia’s out-and-about rate last weekend was higher than the national average, at 19.3 per cent. “So they’re venturing out more, but their curve is probably flattening the best in the country.”

Dr. Bogoch also said that even if people do travel outside their neighbourhood, they may still be adhering to physical distancing measures.

Story continues below advertisement

Average out-and-about

rates across Canada

To determine what percentage of Canadians

have gone out on weekends over the past 10

weeks, Environics analyzed a database of

anonymized locations for 2.3 million mobile

phones. The data, spanning from the first

weekend in February to the first weekend

in April, were aggregated at many regional

levels – including nationally, as shown below.

Went out

less often

Went out

more often

WEEKEND 1

FEB. 22 AND 23

WEEKEND 2

MARCH 14 AND 15

WEEKEND 3

APRIL 4 AND 5

Note: Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon were

excluded from the analysis because of the low number of

mobile phone locations captured in those areas.

Average out-and-about rates across Canada

To determine what percentage of Canadians have gone

out on weekends over the past 10 weeks, Environics

Analytics analyzed a database of anonymized locations

for 2.3 million mobile phones. The data, spanning from

the first weekend in February to the first weekend

in April, were aggregated at many regional levels

– including nationally, as shown below.

Went out

less often

Went out

more often

WEEKEND 1

FEB. 22 AND 23

WEEKEND 2

MARCH 14 AND 15

WEEKEND 3

APRIL 4 AND 5

Note: Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon were excluded

from the analysis because of the low number of mobile phone locations

captured in those areas.

Average out-and-about rates across Canada

To determine what percentage of Canadians have gone out on

weekends over the past 10 weeks, Environics Analytics analyzed a

database of anonymized locations for 2.3 million mobile phones.

The data, spanning from the first weekend in February to the first

weekend in April, were aggregated at many regional levels –

including nationally, as shown below.

Went out

less often

Went out

more often

WEEKEND 1

FEB. 22 AND 23

WEEKEND 2

MARCH 14 AND 15

WEEKEND 3

APRIL 4 AND 5

Note: Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon were excluded from the analysis

because of the low number of mobile phone locations captured in those areas.

Provincial variations aside, some groups of people are more likely to go out on weekends than others, Environics Analytics senior vice-president Rupen Seoni said. Two groups were more likely to head out, according to the report: people living outside of urban areas, and people with lower incomes.

Surprisingly to Mr. Seoni, age alone was not a factor, deflating the narrative that younger people haven’t been physically distancing enough. “It’s not young people not complying,” he said. “It’s more about socioeconomic status.” This is a problem, given lower-income people may have a harder time getting access to health care or promptly self-isolating – say, because they do shift work and risk losing a paycheque if they don’t show up. “It concerns me to no end,” he said.

Lower-income workers, many of whom work in industries deemed essential, such as restaurants and grocery stores, likely have no choice but to leave their homes on weekends for work, said Sheila Block, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“In order for white-collar workers to be able to self-isolate and work at home, it requires that people with lower earnings and less benefits be out-and-about delivering our food and stocking our grocery store shelves, among other things,” she said. “It really points to a clear divide.”

Using Environics’s data, The Globe and Mail found that those living in the highest-earning areas were indeed going out less frequently. Last weekend in Toronto, areas with households in the top 10 per cent of incomes had an average rate of 13.9 per cent, while the bottom 10 per cent were out much more often, at 15.8 per cent.

In Calgary, the difference was starker. On the April 4 weekend, areas in the bottom 10 per cent of household incomes had an out-and-about rate of 19.1 per cent, compared with 16.9 per cent for the top 10 per cent.

Percentage of Canadians out and about on

weekends, by household income bracket

Using Environics Analytics’ data, The Globe

and Mail found that neighbourhoods with the

highest household income were going out less

frequently on weekends compared with the

neighbourhoods in the bottom 10 per cent.

Areas in the bottom 10 per cent

Areas in the top 10 per cent of income

Vancouver

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Calgary

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Toronto

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Montreal

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Percentage of Canadians out and about

on weekends, by household income bracket

Using Environics Analytics’ data, The Globe and

Mail found that neighbourhoods with the highest

household income were going out less frequently

on weekends compared with the neighbourhoods

in the bottom 10 per cent.

Areas in the bottom 10 per cent

Areas in the top 10 per cent of income

Vancouver

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Calgary

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Toronto

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Montreal

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Percentage of Canadians out and about

on weekends, by household income bracket

Using Environics Analytics’ data, The Globe and Mail found that

neighbourhoods with the highest household income were going out less frequently

on weekends compared with the neighbourhoods in the bottom 10 per cent.

Areas in the bottom 10 per cent of income

Areas in the top 10 per cent

Vancouver

Calgary

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Toronto

Montreal

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

WEEKEND DATES

Percentage of Canadians out and about

on weekends, by household income bracket

Using Environics Analytics’ data, The Globe and Mail found that

neighbourhoods with the highest household income were going out less frequently

on weekends compared with the neighbourhoods in the bottom 10 per cent.

Areas in the bottom 10 per cent of income

Areas in the top 10 per cent

Vancouver

Calgary

Toronto

Montreal

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

Feb. 1

15

29

Mar. 14

28

WEEKEND DATES

Percentage of Canadians out and about

on weekends, by household income bracket

Using Environics Analytics’ data, The Globe and Mail found that

neighbourhoods with the highest household income were going out less frequently

on weekends compared with the neighbourhoods in the bottom 10 per cent.

Areas in the bottom 10 per cent of income

Areas in the top 10 per cent

Vancouver

Calgary

Toronto

Montreal

40%

35

30

25

20

15

10

Feb. 1

15

29

March 14

28

Feb. 1

15

29

March 14

28

Feb. 1

15

29

March 14

28

Feb. 1

15

29

March 14

28

WEEKEND DATES

Working weekends has been part of the routine for Joey Wright, 29, for more than 15 years. A cook at an Italian chain restaurant in Windsor, Ont., Mr. Wright was given a slip of paper by his boss earlier this week declaring him an essential worker.

At this point, he’s one of the few people remaining at his job, which has transitioned to just takeout and delivery orders. “We had a staff of 75," he said. “All but six have been laid off.”

His hours have also been cut. After doing the math, Mr. Wright realized he could actually earn more if he just stayed home and took the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Still, he plans to keep working. “There are other people out there that need that money more than I do,” he said.

As an essential worker, Mr. Wright knows that every time he steps outside, he’s taking a risk. “It’s really weird,” he said. “But I would rather be working than just being at home.”

Weekend movement was also higher outside of urban areas. Mr. Seoni’s team found that small-town retirees and seniors – people at higher risk of developing complications if they contract COVID-19 – went out 15 per cent more frequently than the overall national average. Urban seniors, by contrast, went out 11 per cent less often than the national average.

The variation in out-and-about rates across the country is partly regional, according to Mr. Seoni. Environics found that certain provinces, such as B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, had a naturally higher out-and-about rate on weekends even before the pandemic shut down much of the country.

Story continues below advertisement

Average out-and-about rates

in major metropolitan areas

Went out

less often

Went out

more often

Vancouver

Calgary

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

Toronto

Montreal

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

GRAPHICS BY JOHN SOPINSKI, TOM CARDOSO

AND CHEN WANG, THE GLOBE AND MAIL.

SOURCE: ENVIRONICS ANALYTICS

Average out-and-about rates

in major metropolitan areas

Went out

less often

Went out

more often

Vancouver

Calgary

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

Toronto

Montreal

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

GRAPHICS BY JOHN SOPINSKI, TOM CARDOSO AND CHEN WANG,

THE GLOBE AND MAIL. SOURCE: ENVIRONICS ANALYTICS

Average out-and-about rates in major metropolitan areas

Went out

less often

Went out

more often

Vancouver

Calgary

Toronto

Montreal

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

GRAPHICS BY JOHN SOPINSKI, TOM CARDOSO AND CHEN WANG,

THE GLOBE AND MAIL. SOURCE: ENVIRONICS ANALYTICS

Average out-and-about rates in major metropolitan areas

Went out

less often

Went out

more often

Vancouver

Calgary

Toronto

Montreal

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

GRAPHICS BY JOHN SOPINSKI, TOM CARDOSO AND CHEN WANG, THE GLOBE AND MAIL. SOURCE: ENVIRONICS ANALYTICS

Average out-and-about rates in major metropolitan areas

Went out

less often

Went out

more often

Vancouver

Calgary

Toronto

Montreal

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

Feb. 22 and 23

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

March 14 and 15

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

April 4 and 5

GRAPHICS BY JOHN SOPINSKI, TOM CARDOSO AND CHEN WANG,

THE GLOBE AND MAIL. SOURCE: ENVIRONICS ANALYTICS

While most provinces have halved their out-and-about rates over the past 10 weeks, Newfoundland and Labrador stood out for having the lowest decrease. By the weekend of April 4, the province’s rate sat at 20.8 per cent.

Gillian Pearson, 33, from Mount Pearl, N.L., is one of the people still going out on weekends. She works for the Canada Revenue Agency from Tuesday to Saturday, fielding people’s questions about benefits. While much of her office in St. John’s has chosen to work from home, Ms. Pearson has two huge distractions in the form of a five-year-old and an 18-month-old.

“Working from home just would not be an option for me,” she said. (During a 20-minute phone call with The Globe, Ms. Pearson was pulled away by her kids three times.) Ms. Pearson feels a responsibility to stay focused on work as much as possible – she’s handling a lot of questions about the CERB.

She acknowledges there’s a risk in still heading into the office, even if it’s virtually empty. “You know, in the short term, I would definitely prefer to work from home," she said. “We’ve been following the advice from the provincial government, and we’ve only been going out to get groceries once a week."

"Other than playing in our backyard, we’ve gone nowhere.”

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