Vietnamese-built interactive coronavirus map a hit

By Khuong Nha   February 9, 2020 | 07:46 pm PT
A group of five Vietnamese engineers have created an interactive global map of the coronavirus epidemic that uses AI to mitigate misinformation.

Vong Thanh Cuong, the leader of the team that created, said the biggest issue when setting up the website was how to connect the data science team in Silicon Valley in the U.S. and the development team in Vietnam.

"Some members were on holiday when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus a global health emergency.

"The time difference between the two teams made it difficult for us to start work.

"However, the team was aware of how serious the matter was and set everything aside to work on it together."

The idea of creating a website with interactive maps in Vietnamese stemmed from the fact that none was available earlier. There were none with real-time updates on the number of cases in various parts of the country even as fake news about the outbreak kept proliferating on social media.

The team sought to develop basic and necessary features first before gradually adding other features.

The map lists the official number cases around the world including in Vietnam and provides information about it from trustworthy sources.

The first version thus focused on three key features – a global infection map, a Vietnam infection map and news from reliable sources.

Once the direction was determined, the team quickly put it all together using available information and technology.

The only concern at the time was that WHO was always slower than the Ministry of Health in releasing Vietnamese data, meaning engineers had to spend time to synchronize the data, especially on the number of confirmed cases in various parts of the country.

Because of the time zone difference and the urgency, the team decided to work through the night.

At 1 a.m. on January 31 the team began reassembling the interface and processed data for both PC and mobile versions.

"The project was completed at 2 a.m. on January 31. We pressed the 'publish' button to put the website on the server in the U.S., making it available to all users."

It had taken the team 12 hours of working non-stop.

The interactive map showing the number of coronavirus cases in Vietnam (R) and worldwide (L) and other related information about the outbreak.

The interactive map showing the number of coronavirus cases in Vietnam (R) and worldwide (L) and other related information about the outbreak.

The website is in both English and Vietnam. It uses machine learning to automatically update and clarify official news.

In the week since its launch, the site has consistently peaked in web traffic with users not only from Vietnam but also from many other countries visiting the site to get information.

Tran Anh, an office worker in Ho Chi Minh City, said: "In the past I used to follow the coronavirus infection map on the website of China's Wuhan City, but it was hard to find information about other countries.

"I find the interface is much more intuitive, allowing me to track the number of cases, deaths and recovery in Vietnam and the world much easier."

The project has received good reviews from local technology companies.

Hung Tran, founder of computer software company Got It, said: "In this situation, having a good source of information is extremely important so that people can calmly assess the situation instead of being bewildered."

Vietnam officially declared the nCoV outbreak an epidemic on February 1. Out of the 14 confirmed infection cases so far, three have been discharged from hospitals: a Nha Trang hotel receptionist, a Chinese man from Wuhan, and one of the workers who returned from Wuhan.

The global death toll of the epidemic has reached 910– one each in the Philippines and Hong Kong, and the remaining in mainland China.

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