Epidemics (spread of diseases within a country’s boundaries) and pandemics (spread of diseases internationally) demand understanding of their geographies if we are to fight them.

Note: part of this blog post repeats portions from the previous part (Part 3)

Geography and geographers help

Whenever there is an epidemic or pandemic, geographers are among the first to jump in to help. This is vital because we cannot tackle the spread of the pathogen (disease-causing organism) without geographical knowledge of the disease: place matters!

This has been the case since the famous case of the cholera outbreak in London in 1854 where geographic understanding played an important role in tackling the problem – here a doctor discovered how place matters in an epidemic. Watch this eight-minute long YouTube video about this example:

Geographers have helped bring the power of geography to help understand and address the geographies of many other diseases also such as AIDS, plague, Ebola (read about this here, here, and here ), Zika, malaria, cancer, SARS, and others.

A doctor even applied geography to treat my tummy troubles in 1990 and helped me avoid taking unnecessary medicines. I got well within three days!

The current pandemic of the coronavirus is no exception. Geographers are on it.

University of Washington

Dr Bo Zhao, geographer at the Humanistic GIS Laboratory at the Department of Geography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA and his team have developed an interactive map online about the 2019-nCoV and its details worldwide.

Screen grab from interactive 2019-nCoV infection map. Click on the image to open the interactive map in a new tab. It is best viewed on a large screen. [Source: https://is.gd/Alzi3N ]

“As scientists pin down the origin, governments enact prevention measures and labs look for a cure, news about the outbreak of the novel coronavirus often comes down to two questions: Where and how many people are infected? A new interactive map from University of Washington geographer Bo Zhao aims to answer those questions in real time.” [Emphasis added] (Be sure to follow the two links in this paragraph to see what he and his team have done and are doing … such work needs good geographers and you should explore these kinds of careers in geography!)

Johns Hopkins University

Another prestigious institution has brought geography to bear on the issue – Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


The Johns Hopkins University interactive map of the spread of the coronavirus. Click on the image to open the interactive map.

(The map may take a little time to load, depending on your connection speed.)

Explore both maps:

Use these maps and other resources to explore many geography concepts connected to the coronavirus story.

(Note that the maps use the US format for dates: mm/dd/yyyy; 02/19/2020 is February 19, 2020. Remember also that you can’t get all the information you need directly from the maps. You will have to do some research and some logical thinking. )

For example:

Scale – Trace the scale of the outbreak from the most localized (in China) to the global scale.

Movement of people – Where have people traveled to (in China and outside China) from Wuhan?

Population – Especially population density. Ponder how population density affects the spread of the virus.

Why and how place matters – Examine how places are connected to other places (in geography, this is called situation). For example, places are connected by modes of transport, by trade, and by the flow of ideas and people. See also Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series. What is in a place, or the content of a place, is called site in geography. These include both natural and cultural features. What site features in Wuhan and other places have helped the virus to spread?

Geographical timeline – On a world map with country boundaries, recreate the timeline of the movement of the virus. You can get a blank map at your local stationery shop very cheaply. How would you mark this map so that you can easily make out which countries got the infection as it progressed outward from Wuhan?

Patterns of spatial distribution – Are all countries of the world reporting infections according to these maps? Why have some countries not reported any cases?

Compare the maps –Your skills at ‘hocus focus’ (‘spot at least six differences’) in this newspaper will come in handy here. In what ways are the maps different? If they are different, do these differences lead you to get similar answers to the questions you ask? If not, how different are the answers? Why might these differences exist on the two maps? If they are not different, what might be the reasons? Answering these questions will lead you to study maps and what maps mean in geography, especially if you are studying in the CBSE or ICSE curriculum.

Equally importantly, ask your own geography questions when you study the interactive maps! Asking geography questions is very important to develop your skills as a geographer … or any career you may embark upon!

Share your responses, thoughts, and geography questions in the comments box below.  

Chandra Shekhar Balachandran, TIGS

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition on 19 February 2020

Featured image: Screen grab from interactive 2019-nCoV infection map. [Courtesy: Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA]



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