DUBAI: One of the most popular websites for monitoring activity relating to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus comes from this very region. Launched in March, coronameter.co is a free resource that attracts tens of thousands of visitors every day, getting traffic from as far afield as Argentina and India.
Using daily data from the renowned Johns Hopkins University in the US, the website displays a vast array of statistics presented for easy comprehension.
Data includes the total number of confirmed cases, mortality rates and infection doubling time in the preceding seven days, all broken down by country. A time-lapse graph shows how the disease initially struck China, Iran and Italy before the US, Brazil and Britain became the worst affected nations.
There is also a globe that enables users to click on any country and see its COVID-19 statistics.
“It all started when the (World Health Organization) classified the coronavirus as a pandemic because, at that point, I knew it was going to be something for the long run. We had this urge to stay on top of it,” said Paris-based entrepreneur Amr Sobhy.
The 31-year-old talked with his friend and Corona Meter co-creator Mohamed Reda Eldehiry about their approach. Building the website took the team a few days from conception to launch, although the original idea has been expanded steadily, with more data points and graphics added.
“It’s a perpetual work in progress,” Sobhy said. “We wanted to provide something reliable in Arabic. Once we had enough data, we wanted to use (it) to answer the questions we thought were important.
“I wanted to see how the pandemic was developing over time in order to understand the gravity of the situation. Once we had things up and running, I started adding interesting visualizations.”
Initially available in Arabic and English, the website is now also in Russian, Hindi, French, Italian and Spanish.
“It’s an automated data stream although we have to keep on updating the software because inevitably there are bugs due to it not being designed to run on every device,” Sobhy said.
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As the demands grew, another engineer, Osama Sayed, joined the team to help manage the website.
What sets this product apart from other international ones is that it is accessible in the region. “Once you get the data, the next step is to use it to give people something meaningful,” said Sobhy, who is also the founder and CEO of PushBots, which sold two software-as-a-service (SaaS) products to an Austrian company last year.
IPtrace gives applications users’ geolocation data, while CurrencyStack provides real-time exchange rates for over 150 currencies.
“There are a lot of ways to make digital products, and we from the MENA region can compete globally,” he said. “Code is a building block to solve problems. It’s not an end but a means.”
He believes the success of Corona Meter shows that the people of the Middle East can create products and services that will resonate globally.
“What I could see us do more in MENA is to use existing technologies to answer our own questions because otherwise, we’re just hoping that someone else does it for us,” Sobhy said.
“With technology comes the empowerment that we don’t have to wait. We can actually do it ourselves.”
This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.