April 2020

Helping communities to understand the outbreak

By charting the growth rate of COVID-19, Law student Peng Wu has helped thousands of health professionals and members of the general public to understand the pandemic, encouraging further action.

After the lockdown of Wuhan in his home country of China, Peng monitored the spread of COVID-19 across the world. Once he witnessed the speed of growth here in the UK, his home since April 2019, he decided to do something to help.

“At the end of February there were 20 or so cases in the UK. But by the time I looked again on 5th March, suddenly there were 115 positive cases. The numbers were growing very rapidly, and I felt like I needed to do something – the media wasn’t giving it enough attention. It’d been a hard few months as I’ve been worrying about my family and friends back in China with the lockdown and the spread of the virus, and suddenly it was happening here, too.”

Peng set about highlighting COVID-19 growth trends in the UK by plotting the expected rise in cases that would follow. “I used the daily report posted out by the government to create my graph, and I used the exponential curve prediction method to plot what would follow. After the first graph, I decided to keep doing it every day.”

"It’s a hard time for everyone, and I want to do what I can to help."

Peng Wu
Law student

Through his analysis, Peng predicted that the number of positive cases would double every three days until more drastic social isolation measures were introduced – and that is exactly what happened. “My predictions were correct over those first few days, which caught people’s attention. After that, a lot of people were asking questions or commenting how useful they found my work, so I kept improving the graphs to meet the requests.”

Peng, like many of us, has found the changes to everyday life brought about by COVID-19 difficult. But it is this that drove him to do what he could. “On the one hand, I helped people to learn about the pandemic, and on the other hand, my graphs emphasised the need for everyone to be vigilant and take it seriously.”

With Peng’s 20,000 Twitter Followers including NHS staff, university professors, medical researchers, HSE officials, and local councillors, there is no doubt his work had the desired impact. Peng brought his posts to an end in May, once lockdown restrictions began to lift. After his final post, his Followers expressed their gratidue for his fantastic work.