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How 2 Vietnamese Software Engineers Created a Site to Track the Covid-19 Outbreak

What have you accomplished today while practicing social distancing at home? Did you work on the family’s trellises of gourds, attempt to whisk up a frothy glass of dalgona coffee, or learn a new language?

For a pair of Vietnamese software engineers, a weekend at home presented a perfect occasion to flex their computational problem-solving skills to create a brand-new website hosting Vietnam’s coronavirus progression, a completely on-brand move. The simple dashboard, called Vietnam Covid-19 Monitor, is the brainchild of Le Ba Hieu Giang and his wife, who are currently working in Munich, Germany.

The online tool features a simple interface with two main components: the background is a world map centered on Vietnam with green and red circles representing the number of COVID-19 infections across the nation’s territory; on the left, an information widget showing a breakdown of patient numbers per province and how many have recovered. A deliberate design decision, he says, is to ensure that the site is very mobile-friendly, to make getting informed more convenient for users.

According to Giang, who’s currently working at Google, the project took shape during a “self-initiated weekend hackathon” between him and his wife — a great bonding experience because, as the kids say, couples who code together, stay together. A functional version of the map came online during the first weekend, and after that they added new features and polished it up when they had time. Vietnam Covid-19 Monitor takes data from the Vietnam Ministry of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 website and presents it in a chronological and province-specific display.

To learn about the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Vietnamese netizens now have several options, apart from the official ministry website, which details the status of every single patient since the beginning of the outbreak. One can make a visit to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center or browse a locally-made platform by Vietnamese engineers based here and in Silicon Valley.

Still, Giang tells Saigoneer that he went ahead with making his own, one that’s more focused on how the disease progresses over a period of time. “There are existing solutions, but they only show the current situation, without demonstrating how the situation developed over time,” he explains. “That’s an important piece of information to have, since from that we can basically tell if our social distancing measures have worked, and to what extent.”

How the Covid-19 epidemic in Vietnam has changed over time from January 23 to April 13, as illustrated by Vietnam Covid-19 Monitor.

He added that the project was inspired by a similar dashboard by Berliner Morgenpost, a local German-language newspaper that Giang says has been a helpful resource he uses to get updates on the pandemic situation in Germany and Europe. Creating the COVID-19 site wasn’t without difficulties, though as it involved a variety of open-source tools that were new to one or both of them.

"Having to learn to use new tools as we moved along made the amount of work needed to deliver this dashboard non-trivial, but we’re glad we could build something useful and at the same time learn cool, new technologies," he tells Saigoneer.

Vietnam is in the last stretch of a nationwide social distancing order that limits public gatherings to two, cuts down most domestic flight routes, and forbids non-essential trips, though an extension of these regulations appears likely. The social restrictions in Bavaria, Germany are not much different, as the number of local infections is quite high, according to Giang, but he has faith in the local government in keeping the number of fatalities low, supermarkets well-stocked, and testing extensively.

“There have been intermittent shortages of pasta, but for us that’s fine, we have a sufficient amount of rice stocked,” he says.

Visit the COVID-19 dashboard at ncov.joeleba.me or its Facebook page Vietnam Covid-19 Monitor.

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