COVID-19 dashboard ‘by and for South Africans’

17 April 2020 | Story Carla Bernardo. Read time 5 min.
Leen Remmelzwaal is pursuing his PhD in Computational Neuroscience in the Faculty of Engineering &amp; the Built Environment, focusing on exploring and modelling how the human brain is capable of intelligence and consciousness. <strong>Photo</strong> Kristen Thompson.
Leen Remmelzwaal is pursuing his PhD in Computational Neuroscience in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment, focusing on exploring and modelling how the human brain is capable of intelligence and consciousness. Photo Kristen Thompson.

When South Africa confirmed its first positive case of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), University of Cape Town (UCT) doctoral candidate in computational neuroscience Leen Remmelzwaal was in Switzerland visiting family. On returning to Cape Town, he was shocked by how little data was available to the public and by the amount of misinformation online.

“People wanted to know what was going on, but it was difficult to get a comprehensive overview of the official data. New articles were providing bits and pieces of information but not drawing a complete picture,” he said.

Initially, Remmelzwaal got to work on an Excel spreadsheet, charting the number of cases since the first confirmation and shared it with his family who began requesting daily updates. He soon realised that it would be a lot easier to maintain and share the updates with a web-based dashboard. With the broader public’s need for information, the dashboard which was initially intended for his family soon evolved into a simple and intuitive website: COVID-19 Stats SA.

“This is intended to be a public resource, created by South Africans, for South Africans,” said Remmelzwaal.

COVID-19 Stats SA is lightweight and minimises data costs on mobile devices, making it more accessible to the public. Photo Supplied.

Unbiased visualisations

Launched on 23 March, COVID-19 Stats SA is a free-to-use, mobile-friendly public resource with a responsive user interface. Within just two weeks of its launch, the site was already boasting an average of 1 500 unique visitors (UV) per day; by the Easter weekend, it had reached 3 000 UVs per day.


“I aim to keep the data honest and clear. There will be no speculation or false information.”

With the dashboard, Remmelzwaal is providing South Africans with unbiased visualisations of the latest data on the spread of the virus, including a provincial breakdown, comparisons to other countries, projections and crime statistics.

All data is drawn from sources such as the South African government and Reserve Bank websites. In the interest of transparency, all sources of data are listed under each chart.

The website is also entirely free of advertisements, which is how Remmelzwaal hopes to keep it.

“I aim to keep the data honest and clear. There will be no speculation or false information,” he said.

The build

The first iteration of the dashboard took Remmelzwaal, who is an experienced web-based software developer, six hours to build and launch. He described the process: he used a shared Afrihost Linux server, the Bootstrap SB2 Admin HTML template, visualising the data using Chart.js JavaScript libraries, and using PHP to run the back-end calculations. User experience is designed for both desktop and mobile because 90% of the traffic has come from mobile.


“Any software developer or data analyst can now build their own dashboard by pulling data from, free of charge.”

Remmelzwaal described the website as lightweight – the HTML page is less than 130 KB, thus minimising data costs on mobile devices and making it more accessible to the public.

In addition to the dashboard for the public, Remmelzwaal has also recently launched “a historical and real-time” data application programming interface for South African COVID-19 data.

“This means that any software developer or data analyst can now build their own dashboard by pulling data from, free of charge,” he explained.

Remmelzwaal goes into further detail in an article he posted on his LinkedIn profile. He also invites other data scientists to share the visualisations they’ve created, and which are beneficial to the public, so he can add it to the website.


One of the reasons Remmelzwaal decided to create a web-based dashboard was because it simplifies daily updates. It also allows him to receive valuable user feedback, which is often sent via the site.

“I strive to respond to every user comment and I build new visualisation tools for the users,” he said.

According to Remmelzwaal, a product is “only as good as the team that supports it”, so he is thankful for users’ valuable feedback. He also makes special mention of two UCT alumni who have been invaluable in their assistance with official data collection: Mimi Thurgood and Kristen Thompson.

Now, Remmelzwaal is asking users to share the public resource with friends and family and to continue making suggestions about what they’d like to see on the site.

“This is a tool for South Africans, and I will continue to strive to produce visualisations that are easy to understand, grounded in official data and free of any bias.”

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Coronavirus Disease 2019 updates

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March and implement a national lockdown from 26 March.

UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information.

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Friday, 5 February 14:20, 5 February 2021
Monday, 4 January 16:50, 4 January 2021
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Campus communications

New SRC and other updates 16:44, 4 November 2020
Virtual graduation ceremonies 13:30, 21 October 2020
Online staff assembly and other updates 15:09, 30 September 2020
Fee adjustments and other updates 15:21, 16 September 2020
Call for proposals: TLC2020 10:15, 26 August 2020
SAULM survey and other updates 15:30, 5 August 2020
COVID-19 cases and other updates 15:26, 5 August 2020
New UCT Council and other updates 15:12, 15 July 2020
Upcoming UCT virtual events 09:30, 15 July 2020
Pre-paid data for UCT students 14:25, 22 April 2020
Update for postgraduate students 12:55, 20 April 2020
UCT Human Resources and COVID-19 16:05, 19 March 2020
UCT confirms second COVID-19 case 09:15, 19 March 2020
Update on UCT COVID-19 response 13:50, 11 March 2020
Update on COVID-19 17:37, 6 March 2020


Video messages from the Department of Medicine

Getting credible, evidence-based, accessible information and recommendations relating to COVID-19

The Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, are producing educational video material for use on digital platforms and in multiple languages. The information contained in these videos is authenticated and endorsed by the team of experts based in the Department of Medicine. Many of the recommendations are based on current best evidence and are aligned to provincial, national and international guidelines. For more information on UCT’s Department of Medicine, please visit the website.

To watch more videos like these, visit the Department of Medicine’s YouTube channel.

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Statements from Government


In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”


We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.