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Back to basics: understanding the numbers behind COVID-19

Manoj Dayal Chiba (University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, Johannesburg, South Africa)

Publication date: 8 April 2021


Learning outcomes

The learning outcomes are as follows: How to establish credibility of data sources; measurement scales of data; the importance of descriptive statistics and generating the following based on the type of data: mean, median and standard deviation; graphical methods; and test for differences: t-test and analysis of variance.

Case overview/synopsis

The case is set during the COVID-19 pandemic and the South African Government’s response to the pandemic. A brief timeline is provided as part of the introduction to the case study, with the following being a timeline of the events: 14 March 2020, 114 South African citizens were repatriated from Wuhan the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak; 15 March 2020, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa declares a National State of Disaster, and this includes various measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19, while the health-care system is geared up to deal with the pandemic. Among the measures implemented, travel bans from high-risk countries and closing of air-traffic, closing of land ports and banning of gatherings of more than 100 people; 23 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown beginning on 27 March 2020 for three weeks; 9 April 2020, President Ramaphosa extends the national lockdown by a further two weeks. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had commended South Africa on the swift action taken to curb the spread of the virus. Individuals and organisational leaders are grappling to make sense of the spread of the virus, and the barrage of the information that is being communicated through multiple channels, formal and informal. To make sense of the information, the case is premised on getting access to the raw data and conducting the analysis based on the publicly available data. The central requirement of the case is to compare the number of positive cases per million, based on the population data contained in the data set, of South Africa to a comparable country.

Complexity/Academic level

Post-graduate students learning statistics as part of a degree programme. The case assumes no prior statistics knowledge and therefore is aimed at teaching the importance of the basics of statistical analysis and then progressing to tests for differences.

Subject code

CSS 7: Management Science

Supplementary materials

Teaching Notes are available for educators only.



Disclaimer. This case is written solely for educational purposes and is not intended to represent successful or unsuccessful managerial decision-making. The authors may have disguised names; financial and other recognizable information to protect confidentiality.


Chiba, M.D. (2021), "Back to basics: understanding the numbers behind COVID-19", , Vol. 11 No. 1.



Emerald Publishing Limited

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