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TRENDS dominate GOOGLE searches in some countries amid Covid-19 outbreak?

19:42 | 22/03/2020

Google searches for coronavirus are trending globally and people are "thirsty" for preventive tips, which are suggested widely on websites by experts and researchers around the world. The Trending Google search topics may also suggest how far a country is in its response to the virus. 

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In Italy, this might be a film (Cate Blanchett"s film Carol is surging on Italian Google amid COVID-19), in the US it might be a mask, or in Australia, it might be money — at least, if Google's trending searches are anything to go by.

Amid the global coronavirus outbreak, the pandemic and its effects have been the most searched-for items on the search engineglobally in recent weeks, surpassing the numbers for daily weather and news searches, a Google spokesperson told the ABC.

Trending searches, however, are distinct from Google's most-searched items. Trending searches are topics that have seen a surge in activity compared to a previous timeframe, while most-searched items are the typical things people search on any given day, such as the news or weather.

trends dominate google searches in some countries amid covid 19 outbreak

This graph captures the global searches of "corona" on St Patrick's Day 2020: Tuesday, March 17.

On the Y-axis, 100 represents an instance where a search term (corona) is the most popular it has ever been, with 0 representing the least popular it has ever been.

While the Google Trends website can give us a snapshot of surging topics, the Google spokesperson said it was not necessarily an accurate reflection of a country's sentiment.

That's partly because users may be accessing Google from foreign devices, especially in countries where it is banned, like mainland China, Cuba, and Iran.

Italy

trends dominate google searches in some countries amid covid 19 outbreak

English-language films crept up Italy's trending lists, alongside the country's COVID-19 epidemic.

Peering through the lens of Google Trends also may be an indicator of where a country is on its trajectory in fighting the disease — Italy is one such example.

The southern-European state has suffered the worst outbreak outside of China, and so far there have been more than 41,000 confirmed cases with more than 3,400 deaths. More than 4,400 have recovered.

To quell the spiralling number of cases, Rome has instituted a nationwide lockdown, which has seen the cancellation of major cultural and sporting events, while restaurants, shops and cafes all remain shuttered for the foreseeable future.

In the digital sphere, Google searches appear to reflect a country made to turn inward.

While films such as Harry Potter and Carol, starring Australian Cate Blanchett, have appeared on top, other trending topics point to concerns about the future of Italian employment for those facing the prospect of an indefinite lockdown: "cassa integrazione" (layoffs) and "congedo parentale straordinario" (extraordinary parental leave) are among them.

Italy's five most searched items vs. top trending topics, Tuesday March 17:

Most-searched items Trending topics
Facebook Nuova autocertificazione Covid (new COVID self-certification)
coronavirus Assassinio sull'Orient Express (film: Murder on the Orient Express)
YouTube Modulo autocertificazione (self-certification form)
traduttore (translator) Terremoto Calabria (Calabria earthquake)
Amazon Zeppole di San Giuseppe (food: St Joseph's Zeppole)

United States

The United States's search appears to have the connotations of a dystopian world, when compared to some other countries.

Trending topics last Tuesday included "breaking news", "national quarantine", "N95 masks", "NJ [New Jersey] curfew", and "marshall law", the last term a misspelling of martial law — used to describe the military takeover of a civilian government under emergency conditions.

While the term could also have referred to a 14-day ban on foreign visitors to the tiny US-aligned Pacific state of the Marshall Islands, none of the top 25 related queries to "marshall law" explicitly referenced the Marshall Islands.

President Donald Trump has come under fire for confusing both Americans and world leaders in his response to the outbreak.

His national address on the White House's coronavirus plans last week carried numerous factual errors, prompting some markets to crash and sending US nationals racing to airports across Europe — earning a rebuke from the European Union.

At the same time, criticism of Mr Trump's 2018 attempt to cut 17 per cent of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC)'s budget have resurfaced as experts and punters question the efficacy of the White House's coronavirus response.

The US's five most searched items vs top trending topics, Tuesday March 17:

Most-searched items Trending topics
Facebook Tom Brady (American footballer)
coronavirus Kevin Durant (NBA player)
YouTube Defence Production Act
weather St Patrick's Day
Amazon Oprah

US searches for coronavirus did not generate enough hits to enter Google's trending topics, which are capped at 20 items.

United Kingdom

trends dominate google searches in some countries amid covid 19 outbreak

Across the Atlantic, British trending topics suggest that things are less intense.

Remote productivity apps such as "Slack", "Microsoft Teams", "Zoom", and "Google Hangouts" have featured highly, which suggests the UK — like other service-oriented economies — is entering a period in history where ever-more people have, or are likely to be asked to work from home.

Similarly, searches for home delivery services for supermarket chain Waitrose foreshadow the preparation for a months-long lockdown for citizens over the age of 70.

The UK's five most searched items vs. top trending topics, Tuesday March 17:

Most-searched items Trending topics
BBC News St Patrick's Day
St Patrick's Day Peter Whittingham (soccer player)
coronavirus UK UK lockdown
Facebook Laura Ashley (retail chain)
coronavirus Rishi Sunak (UK Chancellor)

Indonesian

Indonesia trending items spoke to concerns about the virus's spread.

In the first few weeks after the World Health Organisation (WHO) listed the virus as a public health emergency of global concern, experts questioned whether the Indonesian Government was adequately prepared to handle the outbreak.

It was only on March 3 that Indonesian President Joko Widodo officially confirmed the country's first cases.

Last month, Indonesian Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto claimed that it was prayer which had protected the country from the outbreak.

trends dominate google searches in some countries amid covid 19 outbreak

But today, the promise of pine intervention seems a far way off, given that Indonesian Google searchesappear to show that people want to take prevention into their own hands.

"Protokol penanganan virus corona" (coronavirus handling protocol), "pencegahan terhadap terjangkitnya virus corona" (prevention of coronavirus outbreaks), "lockdown artinya dalam bahasa indonesia" (lockdown means in Indonesian), and"menjaga kebersihan diri" (keep yourself clean) are some of Indonesian Google's top hits.

Indonesia's five most searched items vs. top trending topics, Tuesday March 17:

Most-searched items Trending topics
translate Oppo Reno 3 (phone)
cuaca (weather) Kurs dolar hari ini (Dollar exchange rate today)
Google classroom Vanessa Angel (actor)
fb Dr Handoko Gunawan (coronavirus doctor)
YouTube Idris Elba (actor)

Coronavirus appeared 15th on Indonesia's most-searched list, and 7th on trending topics

Australia

trends dominate google searches in some countries amid covid 19 outbreak

Amid the coronavirus searches, the film Deadpool also trended on Tuesday.

While Australian Google searches aren't blanketed in terms related to toilet paper, a cursory glance suggests that Australians are still concerned about their back pocket amid this emergency.

Terms such as "stimulus package 2020", "ASX 200", and "finance" featured highly (on Tuesday the ASX 200 recorded its biggest ever percentage fall on record).

And, like the UK, Australian Google searches reflect the reckoning with a new socially-distant way of life, as remote productivity app searches also featured with "Microsoft Teams", "Zoom", and "Woolworths delivery".

These searches also coincided with curiosity about the virus's trajectory and impact, with searches related to the coronavirus vaccine, death toll, and the Victorian outbreak.

Australia's five most searched items vs. trending topics, Tuesday March 17:

Most-searched items Trending topics
St Patrick's Day St Patrick's Day
Facebook Scott Morrison
coronavirus Idris Elba
YouTube St Patrick's Day 2020
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