COVID-19: how data is helping us understand the pandemic

The science of data visualisation is helping us tell important stories better than ever before.


Chris Leitch 3 Apr 2020
3 mins
COVID-19 data visualisation

It’s almost a given that ‘coronavirus’ and ‘social distancing’ will vie for word of the year titles in 2020 but ‘flattening the curve’ will be a strong contender for a minor placing.

The ‘curve’ at the centre of our conversations is the result of data visualisation, a facet of information sharing that has never been more important to society.

Rarely has there been such an appetite for data as we have seen with COVID-19 – from the public and media outlets seeking the latest infection and casualty information to specialists demonstrating modelling of the potential spread of the epidemic for government and health authorities.


But when there is so much data, it’s overwhelming. Finding the best way to present the data is the key to cut through.

The dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled the creation of charts and data visualisation in immense volume as people try to understand how this new threat emerged and how to best combat it.



The above dashboard from Johns Hopkins University is a great representation of data on a big scale.

Breaking down and localising that data is where individual jurisdictions can find more value. This chart, created by Cannings Purple’s data science expert Roy Shetty, shows how COVID-19 cases arrived into Australia via overseas travellers.



Presented in an animation, it’s information that’s simple to digest but presented with impact.

Likewise, this chart – also created by Roy – demonstrates the rise in COVID-19 cases in various countries after the diagnosis of their 50th case. The steep trajectory of the US, in comparison to other nations, is remarkable.

On the other hand, another of Roy’s data visualisations shows the gradual (but encouraging) increase in people recovering from COVID-19 in WA.

For data scientists, following the spread of a new virus in real time presented an opportunity to crunch numbers and apply complex mathematical models to allow governments and health authorities to chart and understand the spread of the pandemic.

As cases began to escalate during March, so too did the urgency to avoid medical catastrophes such as those which hospitals in Italy faced. Governments rapidly began to put in place measures to reduce cases being imported from overseas, and started using data to reinforce preventative messages.

The sheer volume of reporting around COVID-19 – from both a traditional and social media perspective – is another story that can be told with impact through data visualisation.

This image from Cannings Purple’s media intelligence service shows the most used keywords of the past seven days globally, in mainstream media stories featuring “coronavirus”and “COVID-19.”

The bigger the typeface, the more prevalent keywords have been.


COVID-19: Top keywords in online reporting.


We don’t yet fully know what our lives will look like once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed but there are some assumptions that can be safely made.

We’ll likely wash our hands better and more often. Our daily routine will see many more of us work remotely or from home, more often. With a bit of luck, the world will be a slightly kinder place.

One other thing we can expect is that data visualisation will have gained lasting traction and will continue to be a major and daily part of how we consume information moving forward.

To sign up for Cannings Purple’s daily free COVID-19 media intelligence reporting, visit here.

To enquire about Cannings Purple’s data analysis and data visualisation capabilities, please contact our Chief Innovation Officer Ruth

Chris Leitch is an Account Manager at Cannings Purple and an experienced writer and online editor who previously worked for Seven West Media. Contact Chris.

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Chris Leitch More from author

Chris Leitch is an experienced writer and online editor, proficient in producing website content and developing marketing and digital communications strategies and materials.

He puts his skills to work managing writing projects for Cannings Purple clients, in addition to working across many parts of the business helping to create content and shape digital marketing ideas.

After completing a Communications degree at Edith Cowan University, Chris cut his journalistic teeth at the NT News and worked at Community Newspapers, News Corp and Seven West Media before moving into marketing communications.

Away from the office, Chris’s main goals are spending time with his girls and finding time to hit the beach, improve his golf and dabble in fantasy sports. He spent many summers bowling inswingers for the Scarborough Cricket Club.

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