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Role of Data Mining During the COVID-19 Outbreak

How web scraping and data mining can help predict, track and contain current and future disease outbreaks

Coronavirus as seen under a microscope
A collection of particles (coloured pink) of the new coronavirus emerging from an infected cell in a scanning-electron-microscope image. (Credit: NIAID-RML/de Wit/Fischer/Nature)

COVID-19, a novel strain of the coronavirus, started as a rare respiratory illness in the port city of Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province. Since 31 December 2019, when the Chinese government first reported several cases of unusual pneumonia, the virus has spread around the world and left governments scrambling to contain its spread.

On 30 January 2020, the WHO declared the then unnamed coronavirus a global emergency with new confirmed cases increasing by the thousands every day. One researcher believes 40 to 70 percent of the world’s population will be infected within the coming year.

As of 11 March 2020, there have been almost 120,000 confirmed cases in more than 100 countries, including more than 4,200 deaths. While the spread appears to be under control in China, cases in the rest of the world, mainly Europe and USA, are rapidly increasing every day.

Impact on Global Economy

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has projected that the global economy could grow at its slowest rate (2.4%) since 2009 because of the coronavirus outbreak. It added that the forecast would look much worse if the virus wasn’t contained within the first quarter of 2020 and spread throughout Asia, Europe and North America.

The Dow Jones and FTSE 100 plunged 4.4% and 3.5% respectively on 27 February, as major stock markets lost $1.5 trillion in global shares value the same week — their worst weekly performance since the 2008 financial crisis. Conditions got even worse over the following week, with all major stock markets posting their worst numbers since the 2008 crisis.

Impact on Global Tech Industry

The world of tech is also not immune to the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

Almost all major events and conferences have either been cancelled or restricted to online media, including Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, Facebook F8, Google Cloud Next, Google I/O, IBM’s Think, Austin’s South by Southwest, etc. The economic loss as a result of these cancellations is reportedly more than $1 billion.

Empty Seats at a Conference
Most major events and conferences have either been cancelled or restricted to online media.

Companies are also informing consumers to expect manufacturing and supply chain delays on their products, with offices, stores and factories in China still closed and employees urged to refrain from non-essentials travels.


Data to make or break your business
Get high-priority web data for your business, when you want it.

Role of Technology

As local and international authorities continue to contain the outbreak, incorporating data and technology into the day-to-day decision-making would not only be shrewd but also highly effective. With more relevant data, you can create a bigger picture to take aggressive measures. 

However, quick access to accurate and reliable data is not straightforward in the current climate of privacy concerns, fake news and conflicting information between sources.

The WHO has encouraged researchers, governments, business and scientific communities to collaborate and disseminate data among themselves to better understand the virus and its spread, and develop concrete action plans. This data will also be crucial in developing vaccines and preventing similar outbreaks in the future.

Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics

AI and Big Data are at the forefront of the technological involvement in combating the global outbreak. 

Techniques like web scraping and data mining play integral roles by gathering factual data and minimizing the flow of misinformation. This data helps doctors and health experts to assess their successes or failures, and reorient their actions. 

Visualization

HealthMap CoVID-19 Data
Visualization of COVID-19 spread by HealthMap as of 11 March, 2020.

Tools like Healthmap (above) and the Johns Hopkins University dashboard are perfect examples, which have become some of the most popular resources for information on the current outbreak. 

JHU CoVID-19 Data
Visualization of COVID-19 cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) as of 11 March, 2020.

These use web scraping, data mining, machine learning and Geographic Information Systems technologies to scrape information from a variety of well-sourced sites, including local, national and international-level public hospitals and health centers, news reports, chatrooms, forums, etc. This disparate date is then organized to generate visualizations that show what course the outbreak is taking.

Social media is another useful source for such GIS technologies, where users’ posts can be scraped, and keywords (or hashtags) associated with the outbreak turned into actionable data to determine areas of interest. 

Projects like these supplement traditional data-collection techniques used by organizations like the WHO, and are used by governments and health officials to develop prevention measures and action plans. 

AI in Diagnostics

On 14 March, Chinese media outlet CGTN reported that AI could now detect cases of COVID-19 in 20 seconds with 96% accuracy. The AI algorithm convolutional neural network, combs through 5,000 CT scans to learn new inputs and can be trained in a week.

deep learning classifier first analyzes images for abnormalities, which are then segmented and a massive extraction of texture features is applied. The AI can then instantly differentiate between the lungs of patients with common viral pneumonia or those with COVID-19, while also calculating the number and size of lesions, and determining the severity of each case.

Predictive Analytics

BlueDot is another project that has gone a step further. After collecting disease data, it predicts where it might next appear by using airline flight information. The resulting information is valuable in identifying potentially infectious travelers and isolating or quarantining them as soon as they land to contain the contagion at the very first point of contact, and prevent any further spread.

Other researches, like the Global Virome Project, are building genetic and ecological databases of viruses in animal populations which can potentially be transmitted to humans. The GVP researchers aim to develop vaccines and other preventive measures against potential future outbreaks. 

People in Masks
People wearing masks in Hong Kong on 23 January, 2020. (Credit: Bloomberg)

Thanks to advances in AI, machine learning and GIS technologies, disaster response times have never been quicker. But as with everything, there are limitations to the current techniques. There are still some blind spots around the world — rural areas and their populations — which may be generating less or no online data at all. 

Having said that, the enormous amount of data that these technologies collect can be used to train AI algorithms to better deal with the more disastrous disease outbreaks of the future. 


P.S.: As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to affect lives all over the world, we’d like to urge our readers and customers to stay safe and take all preventive measures. We wish the very best of health to you and your loved ones.


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A beginner’s guide to your favorite DIY web scraping tool Just over a year ago, we introduced the all new Grepsr along with a beta launch of Chrome extension to fill the gap that Kimono Labs, a widely popular scraping tool, left since it’s closure. Now after a year of iteration on both the UI and UX along with shipping […]

Our Kimono Labs Replacement (Grepsr for Chrome) Levels Up

We’ve recently made a number of improvements to make Grepsr for Chrome that little bit easier, and more handy to use. We’ve also received tons of feature requests (keep ’em coming!), so we thought we’d share couple of our favorites that have most recently made it into Grepsr for Chrome. Infinite Scrolling and Enhanced Pagination Support From […]

Importance of Web Scraping in the Age of Big Data

Big Data has become an internet buzz lately. Not a day goes by without a mention of Big Data in many articles published by media or tech companies around the world.

FIVE Essential Questions for Assessing your Big Data Deployment Readiness

Big Data isn’t just a big buzzword. Nor is it merely a business ritual. Ask yourself these 5 essential questions to know if you business is ready for data-driven transformation in the Big Data era

Seven Key Areas Where Big Data has Brought Big Transformations

As the volume, variety, and velocity of Big Data increases, so does its value and application. Today, there is a widespread use of Big Data, and the whole fabric of life has become increasingly data driven. Here is a brief review of 7 major areas which have gone through massive transformations driven by data: Business Business enterprises […]

Data Mining to Predict, Track and Contain the Ebola Outbreak

One of the most diverse continents on earth, Africa astounds the world with its vast savannas, great deserts, ancient architecture and modern cities. But Africa also has its share of tragedies and woes. First identified in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola River in 1976, Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, a deadly zoonotic disease caused by the Ebola […]

Data Mining for Developing Business Intelligence

The growing use of digital technologies in every sphere of life has resulted in the rapid escalation of digital data. While digitization of the facilities of everyday use has given rise to datafication, the process of datafication has produced a byproduct known as big data, which is regarded as a new oil of the digital […]

How Grepsr Works: A Brief Introduction

Web crawling and data extraction services at Grepsr are simple, quick, hassle free and intuitive. We focus on providing top–quality services to our customers in the highly competitive rates. Our strong base–with cutting-edge technologies and advanced infrastructure–in Kathmandu and our maturing technical expertise in the area have helped us to compete with the top tire […]

11 Interesting Quotes about Data

These days, almost everybody—be it a casual technophile or a trailblazing technocrat—has something to say about the usefulness of data. Apparently, there is no area of human interest where you cannot achieve agility, efficiency, and better outcome by deploying data science. Business, astronomy, neuroscience and you name it. Data had never been generated with such […]

Data Analytics for Better Business Intelligence

Advanced information technology has brought a massive paradigm shift in every aspect of human life We spend more and more of our working hours on the digital screens, either generating or aggregating digital data. Internet, what would have seemed something unimaginable only a few decades ago, has become an essential part of our daily businesses. […]

Why Data Visualization Matters to Your Business

There are several reasons why we believe that visual representation of data is becoming an integral part of Big Data analytics or any other kind of data-driven analytics, for that matter

Big Data & the Power of Personalization

According to Wikipedia, Big data is a field that treats ways to analyze, systematically extract information from, or otherwise deal with data sets that are too large or complex to be dealt with by traditional data-processing application software. “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else […]

Big Data is Redefining News & Journalism

If digital data were something physical, it would have massively altered the shape of our world, probably, with new data mountains rising every hour. Whether you browse the web or flip pages of print media, you are sure to stumble upon some news about big data, all the while feeding the web with your digital […]

Location Analytics: ‘Where’ is the Knowledge of Data

Digital Technology and Rediscovery of Geography A substantial amount of data that Grepsr processes and provides to its business partners worldwide contains location-specific information. According to IDC, an American data research firm, 80% of data collected by organizations has location element, and according to ABI Research, location analytics market will rise up to $9 billion by […]

Data Mining: How Can Businesses Capitalize on Big Data?

In the recent years, data mining has become a prickly issue. The big controversies and clamors it has gathered in the political and business arenas suggest its importance in our time. No wonder, it is used as a household name in the business world. Data mining, in fact, is an inevitable consequence of all the technological innovations […]

Web Scraping vs API

Every system you come across today has an API already developed for their customers or it is at least in their bucket list. While APIs are great if you really need to interact with the system but if you are only looking to extract data from the website, web scraping is a much better option. […]

Web Crawling Software or Web Crawling Service

Some people ask us if we are a “service” or a “software”. We simply tell them – we are a service, with killer software that runs behind the scenes! 🙂 Also, lot of our customers ask us, why go for a Web Crawling Service over a Web Crawling Software? The answer is pretty straight forward. […]

Managed Data Extraction Service

Grepsr is what we like to call, “Managed Data Extraction Service”. Here are some of the reasons why we call it “managed”: We let you focus on your business and use the data — worrying about technical details of extraction is our job, and we will do it for you. We let you describe your […]

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