Anatomy of Singapore’s outbreak

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: Reuters

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 1 Dec 2020

Credit: Manas Sharma, Simon Scarr

Project description:

Reuters transformed printed Covid-19 case data into a slick animation of Singapore’s explosive worker dormitory clusters. The piece documents and explains how and where clusters formed, and visualises the scale of the dormitory outbreaks compared to imported and locally transmitted cases.

Impact reached:

The project demonstrated how poorer groups, in this case foreign workers, were not adequetly protected from the virus. The striking visualisation was shared widely on social media, attracted high readership on reuters.com, and was regarded as one of the most vivid explanations of how the outbreak exploded in Singapore.

Techniques/technologies used:

With more than 30,000 dots representing cases, all moving together on the screen, we needed to build and code this piece in a way that would not affect browser performance. We used WebGL to ensure the visualisation would be rendered using the graphics card on each reader’s computer. The end result was a transformation from basic press release data to a vivid, animated reconstruction of how case clusters formed in Singapore.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of this piece was the final rendering and production. Visualising the thousands of cases together while not compromising on clarity of the narrative, quality of the graphics, and speed and performance of the browser rendering was extremely hard and took a lot of innovative ideas. 

It would have been easier just to run the data into a standard forced layout format but that brings the movement to a snail’s pace with so many nodes and drastically reduced the clarity of the piece.

In the end we assigned predetermined positions to some of the dots and controlled how they behaved, forcing the carousel movement as clusters form.

What can others learn from this project?

There can sometimes be completely bespoke solutions when visualising a story and they can be the hardest to code and produce. However, they can also be extremely compelling especially for a once in a generation story like the COVID-19 pandemic.

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