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In mid-March, Canada started to shut down in response to the new coronavirus.

It was visible all around us, as schools and offices emptied.

And it was also visible to Google, as location data sent by our phones showed a quick and profound change to our way of life.

Starting in about the second week in March, Canadians’ phones started spending less time in workplaces, on transit and in retail stores, and more time at home, our phones told Google.

The data showed that we also started shopping much less than normal. The reduction was about 60 per cent for destinations like restaurants and movie theatres, but only about 35 per cent for grocery stores and pharmacies.

“It’s less appealing than before to go grocery shopping,” says Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois. “Most grocery stores, especially during peak hours, you have to wait outside. You go in, and you feel that pressure of doing as much as you can in an allotted time.”

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“Because of lineups, because of what’s been happening with online grocery shopping, people are actually forced to plan. If you have to plan, you don’t have to show up to the grocery store as often.”

Restaurants have been only allowed to serve customers takeout food in much of the country.


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