Argyll student awarded MBE for Covid tracker

John Frace has been awarded an MBE after developing a Covid-tracking website.

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A 26-year-old student from the University of the Highlands and Islands, whose website became essential reading for those trying to understand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, has been awarded an MBE.

John Frace, who is from Dunoon and is also known as Travelling Tabby, sprang into action in the early days of the outbreak, translating often complicated and hard-to-read data sets about hospital admissions and deaths into easily understandable numbers.

In March 2020, John created Scotland’s Coronavirus Tracker website which attracted 1.5 million users, and at the height of lockdown had more than 1,000 people logging on every day for the 3pm update.

In 2021, while studying for a Business and Management BA (Hons) at Argyll College UHI, who was named its Higher Education Student of the Year, and won The Herald Award for Outstanding Contribution from a University Student, both of which merited congratulatory motions in the Scottish and UK Parliaments.

Now he has been accorded an even higher honour in the Queen’s Jubilee Birthday Honours List: an MBE for services to public health communication during Covid-19.

The citation explains: ‘When Scotland went into lockdown, this university student began keeping track of the data surrounding the Covid-19 virus for personal interest.

‘He began sharing the data he was compiling with others online, in a simplified and easy to read format.

‘He was soon encouraged by feedback from the public to set up a dedicated page on his existing travel blog website to focus on Scottish Covid-19 data. He had to upskill himself at pace.

‘While national information sharing is now much improved, there was a considerable period where there was no easily understandable and readily available Covid-19 data.

‘The data was set out in spreadsheet or dataset form; difficult for the layman to read and interpret.

‘His site became a conduit of the facts, which in turn, by providing easily understood information, allayed fears and made data accessible to the general public. NHS workers find the site remarkably helpful, using it to keep track of the situation in their own local area.

‘Since setting up the web pages, the site has flourished in response to increased demand. Such was the impact of his local pages and so great was the demand from outside the immediate area, he was inspired to expand focus to include the UK as a whole while still including the same depth of local data.

‘Despite attracting interest from advertisers, which would generate income, he has rejected this in favour of maintaining the simplicity of his sites, continuing to offer ease of use and relying instead on donations to keep the site running.

‘He devotes hours each day to the maintenance of the sites and replying to the hundreds of emails he receives while continuing his university studies.

‘From a community spirited venture at the start of lockdown, his page has now reached over 7.5 million hits, an incredible result for a university student balancing his studies with the personal impact of the pandemic.’