Supporting the response to coronavirus (COVID-19)

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is a significant challenge for the UK that affects us all. Along with teams across the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and other government departments, the Data Science Campus team is working to ensure that the country has the best possible information and analysis available on our health, economy and society, to help inform the response to the pandemic.

Our colleagues at the ONS have started publishing new data and analysis including the counts of deaths involving COVID-19 and a new, weekly release containing data and experimental indicators about the condition of the UK society and economy.

At the Campus, we are exploring new data sources to strengthen the information that we have through surveys and other sources. These assist the government in several ways, such as providing more timely indicators in assessing the impact of social distancing, identifying the number of people in self-isolation, understanding changes to trade in goods and assessing the impact on businesses.

One such data source is the set of global Community Mobility Reports published by Google on 29 March 2020. These reports show the changing levels of people visiting different types of locations for areas around the UK and other countries. The data provides insight into the impact of social distancing measures, and are created with aggregated, anonymised data from users who have turned on the Location History setting (off by default).

We have extracted the data from these reports for the UK and other countries and made these publicly available along with our code-base. This means users around the world can reuse the data in their work to support the COVID-19 response. A Python tool has been used to extract trend data from the graphs, and we have made this tool and the data available on Github.

We are also working with other government departments to deliver new insights and infrastructure vital to the COVID-19 response. We will continue to provide updates on this work alongside other projects and will publish more over the coming weeks.

Of course, all ONS work is subject to appropriate safeguards and all our new projects are subject to ethical review to ensure that these safeguards are in place.

Finally, we are making our core data science courses available online for ONS colleagues through the ONS Learning Hub on a self-learning basis. We will extend these to the Government Statistical Service (GSS) soon, with guided online learning from our data science lecturers to follow. We are also working to make our courses available for a wider government and international audience as soon as possible. We are reviewing a wide range of existing online and distance learning programmes that will complement these.

Last month we marked the three-year anniversary of the Campus. In due course we will look back at the impact that we’ve had, but right now our focus is on doing everything possible to inform the UK response to COVID-19. The need for rapid data, analysis and insight means that the Campus work is supporting the biggest decisions – “data science for public good”.