How Big Data Is Helping to Combat COVID-19


Undeniably, the outbreak of Covid-19 has changed our world in so many ways. All of a sudden, we are faced with real time adaptation to daily routine to lengths, in many cases that would have seemed impossible to achieve so quickly just half-a-century ago. As we struggle with the economic and public health challenges springing up daily, technology is receiving greater attention from businesses and organizations as a vital component for survival but also for recovery. Indeed some argue that this period will be remembered as the first time since the industrial revolution, that technology has enabled such mass change & adaptation in such a small space of time.

COVID-19 has of course, generated gargantuan volumes of data which if incorrectly navigated poses the threat of overwhelming resources on the ground. Given the public’s desire and right to access solid and verified information, data science & big data are proving to be close & earnest allies for those involved in curbing the spread of infection and making decisions for the good of all.

Our vast warehouses, high performance computers and real time streams of data capture place us at a distinct advantage versus our predecessors when widespread diseases proved difficult to monitor. It’s no surprise that affected nations are already incorporating machine learning and AI tools in order to track the spread of the virus and critically – devise more intelligent response systems.

Real-time trackers, thermal sensors, scanners and custom-designed apps monitor exposure risk levels and human interaction patterns. All of this technology continuously collects a huge amount of data from around the world and combined – these resources are being used to aggregate, determine, and synthesize usable data at a global level so that epidemiologists, healthcare workers, scientists, and policymakers can make the best decisions to keep the public safe.

Although we still have a long way to go to effectively harness and leverage Big Data for life sciences and medicine, Big Data is currently showing many results in the fight against the pandemic on a preemptive, data-driven basis. Big Data and Artificial Intelligence are helping to automate some important and key processes such as signal detection and analytics, as well as the integration of faster patient recruitment and bio tracing processes.

The combination of these means that there is an opportunity for a large-scale response program that can pull up data instantly, and direct us towards more individualized patient-focused treatments and as in supply chain analytics – to prioritise limited resources such as PPE, incubators and complimentary antibodies.

By developing working models for the virus using statistical modelling with the help of open data, the wealth of knowledge available from search engine providers and social media giants; big data offers real time measurement of actions whilst enabling risk mitigation though the power of scenario based analysis on a predictive level.

It’s critical to remember too that, Big Data is central in the search for a cure and vaccine for the Coronavirus. Biomedical researchers need to develop molecular models using information from their findings and many of them are already using Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to do this whilst keeping a map of the genomic and pharmacological databases around the world for the collective efforts between governments.  Big Data thins down the number of trials and false outcomes that normal procedures would have otherwise required, as researchers can access a narrower range of possibilities and accelerate the finding of a vaccine.

We owe a great deal to the data science, bioinformatics and technology community at this time. While Netflix indulges our imagination at home & Whatsapp and Tiktok enable all of us to communicate creatively with one another, we are all data points in this pandemic.

Big data will play a central role in the wake of this pandemic as markets recover, banks seek to lend and insurance groups ascertain what premiums to pay. While our daily lives have been dominated by stark and uncomfortable figures since late January – rest assured that data science and analytics have a place for the good of all for now and into the future & are undoubtedly accelerating the speed by which the human race will find a cure & effective response for Covid-19.


Adrian Clarke, Associate Director – Analytics


Please see below for some further links on this topic:

‘Understanding the COVID-19 Pandemic as a Big Data Analytics Issue‘ – xTelligent Healthcare Media | ‘Big Data in the Time of Coronavirus’ – Forbes | ‘Big Data & AI Can help Covid-19’ – IE Business School