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SA COVID-19 research data platform in the works

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Minister of higher education, science and innovation Dr Blade Nzimande. (Source: Twitter)
Minister of higher education, science and innovation Dr Blade Nzimande. (Source: Twitter)

The Department of Health and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) are working to develop a data hub to monitor the geographic spread of COVID-19, among other things.

This is according to higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande, noting the interventions taken by his department in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the first case was confirmed in SA on 5 March, the number of COVID-19 cases has heightened. The country now has 1 280 coronavirus cases, which have so far claimed the lives of two people. Globally, the number of infections have surpassed 730 000, with more than 34 000 deaths and over 152 000 recoveries, at the time of publication.

With a 21-day national lockdown in place, various government departments have put forward measures to combat the local spread of the disease.

Nzimande revealed the CSIR, an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), has been commissioned by the Department of Health to set up a COVID-19 data platform/warehouse (situational awareness platform).

Essential to the platform will be to determine the current geographic spread of the disease, current cases, health vulnerabilities, and location of health and other facilities, among others.

While this project will initially focus on health data, Nzimande says, over time, it is envisaged it will be integrated with other types of data to provide a more robust platform that can provide holistic decision support to the National Command Centre.

According to the minister, initial visualisations have been completed and these will be continuously enhanced and improved. “Protocols and arrangements are also being facilitated by the DSI to enable the situational awareness platform to draw in information from other sources. This includes the results of the modelling efforts of various modelling teams on a regular basis.

“Initial work, led by a team at the University of Pretoria, has also started mobilising continent-wide networks to build databases on COVID-19 cases. Of particular strategic importance for the South African response effort is the situation in our neighbouring countries.

“Over the next few days, protocols and improved management arrangements for the facility will be finalised to protect the health and wellness of the core team.”

The situational awareness platform is flexible and dynamic, and will be improved and customised based on the prevailing decision support requirements of the National Command Centre, the minister adds.

ITWeb reached out to the CSIR to request further details; however, the research organisation wasn't able to share more information due to the nature of the project.

The CSIR states the team of experts is under enormous pressure to ensure the system is up and running as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the National Integrated Cyber Infrastructure System (NICIS) has revealed it is availing resources to research or data analysis that is dedicated to efforts to combat COVID-19.

“The Centre for High Performance Computing will prioritise computational resources and application support for any compute-intensive or machine learning algorithms.

“For the purpose of moving large data from various points in a secure environment, the South African National Research Network will provide resources. NICIS will also provide any data-intensive research requirements, through DIRISA.”

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