Coronavirus cases in Singapore: What we know so far

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: The Straits Times

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 6 Feb 2020

Credit: Alyssa Karla Mariano Mungcal, Chee Wei Xian, Lee Pei Jie, Rebecca Pazos, Spe Chen, Tampus Charles Singson, Thong Yong Jun

Project description:

Singapore was among the first countries in the world to record an imported Covid-19 case. Months later, the progression of the virus has taken many twists and turns as it spread into the local community before hitting foreign worker dormitories hard.

This is an ongoing project which has pivoted twice to deal with the changing nature of the virus, involving major design and coding overhauls.

We remain the only media outlet in Singapore to continually update our readers with daily local data in a visual storytelling format since it was first published in February 2020.

Impact reached:

Not only is this graphic among the top 10 of all stories published by The Straits Times in 2020, it has also had incredible longevity. At key moments in the outbreak, the graphic has seen more people flocking to this page over a longer extended period than any other story.

Daily updating takes less than 30 minutes, and this is an incredible feat when faced by multiple data points in PDF formats spread across the Ministry of Health’s website. Data delivery has also pivoted many times.

Techniques/technologies used:

We used a combination of Google sheets via mostly manual entry because the data delivery methods were constantly changing. In a way, we are actually glad to have needed such a close eye on the daily data as we were able to pick up on any discrepancy, of which there were many, and query the authorities when neccessary.

The network graphics, which were in use in the early stages of the local spread in the community, were an engineering feat. We were able to dynamically update the clusters daily for almost two months! It used force directed layout from D3 and the clusters were laid out in a scrollytelling narrative format so we could highlight the key points to our readers for that day. It worked amazing on mobile even as the clusters grew. It is a true shame we were not able to continue using this and had to resort to more common charts as cases spiralled.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Data is delivered to the media via PDFs and it has changed frequently over the course of the outbreak. The team has had to manually update from the PDFs into our own dataset which is used to power the main graphics.

Later, it spread to multiple data points across more than five locations across their website and other PDFs. We are the only ones to compile this information into one simple to read location for our readers.

What can others learn from this project?

Covid-19 presented us with a very unusual circumstance – a long-tail breaking news story. As the pandemic progressed and people were demanding more data and analysis, we had to adapt our usual one-time publish workflow to a multi-phased rollout – all on the fly. What was great to find out was how easy it was for us to adapt our knowledge and skills to provide a useful and informative overview of Singapore cases. It is a testament to our team that it remains the only Singapore outlet to maintain such a page daily.

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