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April 21, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:10am

Charted: Google News data suggests reader interest in coronavirus has already peaked

By William Turvill

The coronavirus crisis led to record levels of interest in online news, data from Google shows. But interest in Covid-19, like the infection rate in many countries, appears to have peaked – as shown by the charts below.

According to an analysis of Google News searches for coronavirus, worldwide interest in the disease peaked on Thursday 12 and Saturday 14 March.

In the UK, 12 March was the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson described coronavirus as “the worst public health crisis for a generation”, adding that “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time”. In the US, this was the day after President Donald Trump had announced a European travel ban. The death toll in Italy, meanwhile, passed 1,000.

Saturday 14 March was the day after Trump declared a national emergency in the US. Europe had just been named as the epicentre of the pandemic by the World Health Organization, and the UK was facing criticism over suggestions it was pursuing a “herd immunity” approach.

As the below chart shows, Google News searches for coronavirus have drifted down over the last month, and by the end of last week interest was at its lowest since 22 February, when the number of cases in Italy hit 62.

The next graph, created on Datawrapper with Google News search data, shows how interest in Italy peaked around 23 February, as lockdowns were starting to be introduced.

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UK and US interest peaked around the same time as most of the rest of the world, between 12 and 14 March, and has fallen since. This appears to be borne out in news website traffic, as reported here by Niemen Lab in the US.

1: 31 January. Researchers say more than 75,000 people in Wuhan, China, may have coronavirus. Seventh case confirmed in US. 2: 23 February. Lockdowns begin as Italy reports 152 cases of coronavirus. 3: 12 March. Donald Trump introduces European travel ban. Boris Johnson describes coronavirus as the “worst public health crisis for a generation” and warns that “many more families are going to lose loved ones”. 4: Boris Johnson announces UK lockdown.

Google trend data does not provide specific search figures, but rates interest on a scale of 0-100. It explains: “Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means that there was not enough data for this term.”

Google has also revealed that the coronavirus crisis has driven searches for news to an all-time high, based on its data going back to 2004.

The final two graphs, specifically looking at the UK and US, demonstrate the extent to which coronavirus searches have eclipsed two of the other biggest news topics of recent years: Brexit and Donald Trump. They also show that although interest in Covid-19 has fallen, the public appetite for news on the virus is still extremely strong.

The UK figures suggest that, at its peak around the time of the EU referendum in June 2016, interest in Brexit news was at 17 per cent of the levels of interest shown in coronavirus at its peak. In the US, interest in Trump news peaked at around 32 in November 2016, when he won the US election.

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