COVID-19 : Visualising the Outbreak

Since cases of COVID-19 infection started surfacing worldwide in the second half of January, data on the outbreak has turned into a torrent as it relentlessly widens its reach. Effective visualisation is often a way for the human mind to grasp the essential features of the underlying data. Let us see a few ways the outbreak has been represented on the Internet.

We start with a map showing the geospatial distribution of confirmed cases in Singapore. You can access it here. Every confirmed case is represented as a coloured circle, red for the most recent ones, orange for the rest. Click on a circle and you will receive more information on the stricken individual. It will also show places visited by the person as white circles, linked by blue lines from the original circle. The creator of this visualisation is reportedly a 32-year-old Singaporean with the Twitter handle Ottokyu. According to him, he keeps the map updated upon new information announcement from the Ministry of Health via Twitter.

Another visualisation of the COVID-19 situation in Singapore can be found on the Facebook pages of a local user. Here is an example of a chart he has been updating for the past days. It is not known what his information sources are, but an interesting and salient feature is that he chooses to represent the people affected as clusters. At the time of writing, the contagion is still relatively contained and it makes sense to accentuate clusters of people closely related to one another.

Turning our attention worldwide, we look at an animation of the COVID-19 outbreak at a global level. It is maintained by HealthMap, which according to its website is a team of researchers, epidemiologists and software developers who utilise online informal sources for disease outbreak monitoring and real-time surveillance. Click on the “animation spread” button and you will be presented with a day-by-day account of the officially confirmed cases in different parts of the world.

In cases, as in the present time, where spatial, relational and temporal features of an evolving situation have to be effectively communicated, visualisations are often the best means to go about it.

Note : These visualisations have, presumably, been done with the best of intentions. Check with the relevant health authorities (e.g. Ministry of Health in Singapore, WHO) for the most accurate information.

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