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Open source development during the Covid-19 pandemic, with examples

The Covid-19 outbreak has seen many changes to our daily lives right around the world. As we adapt to the new normality of social distancing and remote working, communities across the globe are pulling together and staying strong during these tough times.  

Here in the UK, we demonstrate this every Thursday as we #clapforcarers – a prime example of communities united in the face of this pandemic. As people pull together and offer their support to this global cause, the development community have stepped up to help in a big way.   

Open source development isn’t new 

Open source development isn’t a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Well-established platforms, such as WordPress.org, have been open source since the very beginning. This means that it’s driven and supported by a network, a community, of developers who all contribute to updates, fixes and improvements to code.  

Working in this way means that resources, data and code is shared and easily accessible. For WordPress as a company, the change to remote working as a result of Covid-19 may likely have made a small impact on their team. Their infrastructure and methods of collaborating were already in place to transition more easily into lockdown scenarios. Open source development ensures that work can be continued and progress can be made under these challenging circumstances. 

How can open source development help with Covid-19? 

Many of us may not realise it, but open source development is playing a vital role in our understanding and tracking of Covid-19. We’ve heard in the news of the important data that is coming out of John Hopkins University (JHU) in the United States.  

However, what many may not realise is that this is an example of open source development being applied directly to help with the global crisis. JHU is pulling data from a variety of sources, and then cross-referencing this with the World Health Organization. This is then being presented in this dashboard, which tracks reported cases of the virus as the data becomes available.  

A tool such as this is invaluable for governments, journalists and scientists worldwide because it’s open source, free, and accessible to all. It focuses on interpreting and visualising large scale datasets. This data is then fed to medical and scientific experts to aid their decision-making process. 

How will open source development continue to help with Covid-19? 

Our response to Covid-19 continues to be a constantly evolving international effort. Fortunately, in times such as these, the development world is already setup to share code and data quickly and easily.  

Code repository’s, such as GitHub, make this possible and bring together a global network of knowledge and expertise. This allows for a much faster response from the development community.  

The World Health Organization has developers working right now on building a publicly available Covid-19 app. The goal is for everyone to access local information relevant to them and also feedback data to public health bodies. Similar apps are also being developed or are in trial right across the world. 

Another example is Nextstrain. They’re maintaining a dashboard of the genomic epidemiology of Covid-19. This is helping to understand the origins of the virus through tracking its mutations.  

There’s also Covid-19 Scenarios; a simulator setup specifically to suggest the strain the outbreak with have on public health services in different countries across the world. 

In Singapore at the moment there is a team of developers working on a Coronavirus encounter-tracing app called TraceTogether. This app is using Bluetooth technology to identify who an individual has come into contact with during their day, to then understand who might need to go into quarantine should a Covid-19 case be confirmed.  

The Singapore team are working hard to make their findings and their code open source on a global level. This is all with the aim of helping other governing-bodies throughout this Covid-19 pandemic with the understanding that this will be with us for longer than we would like. Similar apps such as this as also being considered in many other countries too. 

There’s so much open source development and collaboration happening right now around the world to help the fight against coronavirus and these are just a few examples. Developers, researchers, scientists and medical experts are all working together so that we can beat this together.  

What about open source development after Covid-19? 

It’s clear that right now we all need to be following government advise and staying at home to save lives. Although at the moment the lockdown’s here to stay, when it’s lifted our world will be changed slightly.  

Scientific and medical research will still be carried out to better understand Covid-19 and the outbreak, and lessons will be learned.  

The development community will doubtlessly be called upon to help in this process; interpreting datasets, visualizing reports, generating simulations. This has been an international problem, but it has been met by an international response from the development community. 

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