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UKZN COVID Researcher: Open data analysis in epidemiology helps control outbreaks

Pro Vice-Chancellor of Big Data and Informatics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Prof. Francesco Petruccione recently hosted a breakfast seminar titled "COVID-19 Genomics and Epidemiology". The seminar was presented by renowned UKZN's bioinformatician, epidemiologist and Director of KRISP, Professor Tulio de Oliveira.

This talk revealed the importance of understanding the origion and transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The talk also looked at the chain and speed of transmission from the first reported corona case in China in December 2019 and to how the virus has then spread and became a global pandemic in a very short space of time.

de Oliveira said although research indicates that transmission across other countries like the United States for example is a bit tricky and not well understood, what is more important at this stage is how states should approach and apply readily available genomics and epidemiology data by researchers for real-time analysis of data and use this information to control outbreaks.

"This pandemic has addressed a question of how can research speed up reaction and the turnaround speed when the public health sector is facing an emergency like COVID-19 to curb. Social media i.e. Twitter, open data, open analysis and quick data reviews amongst global research communities cannot be stressed enough. Open data has momentously assisted us researchers to quickly analyse data and be in a state of readindiness by understanding the genome and epidemiology of this virus right in time," said de Oliveira whose lab at UKZN has been involved in efforts to understand COVID-19 since the first week of January when he first saw tweets about the virus from researchers based in UK.

"This proves how powerful Big/Open Data is in advancing global research and other critical spheres of life," concluded seminar co-ordinator, Prof Francesco Petruccione who is also the South African Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing and Communication in the School of Chemistry and Physics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Words by: Lihle Sosibo