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Tracking the coronavirus outbreak in real time

A closer look at interactive dashboards and tools that present real-time data on the Covid-19 outbreak

Men wearing masks in Tokyo
Men wearing masks in Tokyo

Ever since the coronavirus outbreak started in December, tracking the spread of the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has been a key factor in understanding the severity of the problem. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a pandemic. According to the latest figures, there have been more than 126,672 cases of Covid-19 across the world.

An innovative, interactive web-based dashboard has proved useful in tracking the number of cases worldwide in real time. The dashboard, developed by researchers at the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), an interdisciplinary research facility based in Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering, shows the number of confirmed cases by country/region and province/state. It also illustrates the location, total number of deaths and total recoveries. According to an official blog, the dashboard is designed “to provide researchers, public health authorities and the general public with a user-friendly tool to track the outbreak as it unfolds".

A screenshot from the online dashboard created by Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering; and an illustration created at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts the ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.
A screenshot from the online dashboard created by Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering; and an illustration created at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts the ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.

It has a desktop and a mobile version. In terms of data display, the desktop version is more user-friendly as you can see all the key numbers in one window. This includes three graphs showing the gradual rise in the number of cases in mainland China and other locations. According to the blog, the dashboard’s primary source of data is DXY, an online platform run by members of the Chinese medical community, which aggregates local government and media reports to provide Covid-19 cumulative case totals in real time at the province level in China and country level elsewhere. The dashboard is also powered by data from WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The John Hopkins CSSE dashboard, however, is not the only source of live information on this developing epidemic. HealthMap, a platform that displays data on global health, has an animated dashboard that shows the current number of Covid-19 cases across the world, and also provides an animation of how the novel coronavirus spread, starting from the very first case in China. HealthMap’s data is curated from publicly available sources, including government and news media reports.

While HealthMap’s Covid-19 dashboard prefers a dark display theme to show the data, WHO’s dashboard uses a mix of colour schemes and informative map legends. The dashboard displays the name of the country and the number of cases on a map. On the right is a tab with a list of affected countries, areas and territories; click on any one of them and the map readjusts itself to zoom in on the selected region, highlighted through animation.

For more technical data, you could check out NextStrain, an open-source project that uses publicly available genome data to improve epidemiological understanding and improve outbreak response. Their excellent coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak includes genomic analysis situation reports in different languages, including Hindi, and two detailed dashboards: One shows the phylogeny data on the virus based on genome samples and the other has an animated global map on the transmission of the virus.

Last on this list is a simple yet informative dashboard on the website This dashboard also uses a map to show the total number of infected cases, countries affected, deaths and recovery cases across the world. Chart-based and percentage data lists countries with the largest increase in number of cases and the latest countries affected. Scroll down and you will find a “live updates" section, which picks and displays news reports on the novel coronavirus from different sources online.


Smartphone apps have also surged amid the ongoing outbreak. The Chinese government has enlisted the use of a health code system that assigns individuals different colours (green, yellow or red) based on their travel history and medical condition. These codes, known as the Alipay Health Code, segment people depending on whether they should be allowed into public spaces or quarantined at home. The New York Times, however, reported that this system was sharing personal data with law enforcement agencies and could start new types of “automated social control" that could be used even after the outbreak ends.

In Punjab, the state government recently launched an app, COVA Punjab, to spread awareness about the coronavirus. The app is available on Android and iOS. According to a PTI report, the app provides options for individuals to check for symptoms and also suggests the nearest hospital in case they exhibit any symptoms.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia are developing an AI-powered app that will let users get an at-home risk assessment based on how they are feeling and where they have been. The app will also direct any individual deemed at risk to the nearest virus testing facility.

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