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Mapping the outbreak

Updated: 2020-04-01 08:32:32

( China Daily )

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The global map dashboard of the COVID-19 tracking website.[Photo provided to China Daily]

A group of young people working online track the global route of COVID-19 and provide a valuable insight as they chart its direction and intensity, Xing Wen reports.

Maps can guide us through previously unknown territory. Explorers track routes over mountains, rivers and lakes, the obstacles of the physical world. A group of students have come up with a map of the health world, charting and exploring the direction of the COVID-19 outbreak. Their work, the nCoV-outbreak map, shows the direction of travel of the virus and hopefully its end destination.

Although all the volunteers have been working together for more than two months, they still don't know much about each other. What links them is the invisible airwaves. What gathers them is the passion they share for contributing to society.

Since late January, nearly 200 team members from varied educational backgrounds, without physically meeting each other, have set up a map that illustrates the global path of the novel coronavirus, with an up-to-date pandemic database and data analyses.

The team has provided information and statistics to more than 30 research groups, mostly from Peking University, the National University of Defense Technology, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and other universities and institutions in China.

What inspired these volunteer team members to gather together virtually in pursuit of the same goal is Chen Chunyu's attempt to trace the virus growth.

Chen, 20, a sophomore from the School of Life Sciences at Tsinghua University, started to collect reliable data from mainstream media reports and official websites of health departments in China on Jan 20.

Based on that data, the next day he released a map dashboard that provided daily-updated information about all confirmed cases of COVID-19. This soon garnered millions of views online.

At first, Chen confesses, like many people, he had been in a state of distress as the devastating disease spread quickly. Later, he realized that he could do something to contribute to fighting the virus.

Chen noticed that most of the "virus maps" he saw in the media were not in the form of a real map, and failed to clarify the growth, or showed all of the factors that affect the spread of the epidemic in a scientific and comprehensive way, he says.

"I wanted to create a map that helps people better understand the severity of the pandemic and its growth trend," Chen says.

He started by producing the map for China, and recently the team extended the map to encompass a global projection.

Initially, to track more detail about every confirmed case in the country, Chen had to search for publicly available governmental data and reliable news from 7 am to midnight every day.

As more cases were identified, he felt that it had far exceeded his own ability to follow it. On Jan 25 he decided to get volunteers to help.

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