Coronavirus: Trust the data

The recent spell of sunny weather, after weeks of torrential rain, brought the masses out.

A lovely Spring weekend. If only so. As television and online images revealed, “It was like a bank holiday,” says Harvinder Atwal, chief data officer at MoneySupermarket. As a result, the UK is now officially in lockdown and among the question policy makers and healthcare professionals are asking is how effective is data at influencing the population?

The data doesn’t lie

Atwal argues that people have actually stopped listening to the data that is presented to them. “People ignore the experts and rubbish science. There’s a lot of skepticism in people’s lives and it has become popular to ignore science.” The challenge for policy makers is that they rely on the experts with access to data that is showing them how the virus spreads and, more importantly, how it can be managed.

Last week Google and Microsoft joined forces with the Kaggle Data community on the release of the Covid-19 Open Research Dataset (Cord-19).

Every country varies in how its population reacts to measures imposed by the government to control the spread of the virus. Each will have different demographics, underlying health issues and climate that all affect any proposed data model that can predict the coronavirus infection rate.

Trust data models, even if not 100% accurate

But Atwal believes some of the data, like compliance, can help in the fight against coronavirus. “You can get data on what businesses are open. Lot of countries use mobile data to track people’s movements by looking at who has logged into their phones.” Such data can be used to assess how effective the government measures are in stopping people from gathering in public. “You can also look at Google trend data on fear based searches,” he says. All of this data gives the experts an idea of how much impact their policy is having. Atwal says it informs the government whether its previous voluntary, softly, softly approach was changing people’s behaviour. He adds: “Models that forecast the spread of the disease can show the impact coronavirus will have on the NHS.”

The virus transmission could be a lot higher than published estimates. Even if the margin of error is high, the data models created by experts, will provide insights to guide policy decisions, and save lives.

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