A world of COVID-19

By May 14, 2020Science, Society

Although it is very early in the COVID-19 pandemic and it is a long way from being over, the figures from the go-to source, the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resources Centre1, are dependent on sources which are in turn dependent on to what governments are prepared to admit. While most democracies are relatively open compared to dictatorships of various persuasions, there are signs that the governments of some of the worst affected nations are beginning to prevent information getting out. This was clear when the Johnson government prevented the release of graphs comparing the increase of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the UK to those of other countries2. Similarly, the Mango Mussolini and his coronavirus task force are pushing officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change how the agency works with states to count coronavirus-related deaths, thereby leading to far fewer deaths being counted than originally reported3. I suspect this will become more common as the death toll rises, particularly in the countries where the government has been shown to be derelict in their response to the virus.

At the time of writing there were 4,347,015 cases and 297,197 deaths recorded around the world, according to the Johns Hopkins site. However, the number of deaths is likely to be a significant underestimate, based on the study of mortality statistics in European countries3. This study looked at the historical average death rates of eleven European countries over the period 2015-2019. They were: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England and Wales, France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Over a year, these ‘normal’ average death rates show a shallow concave curve with a minimum in the summer months (June-August) rising to a maximum in the winter months, with intermediate rates in the spring and autumn. This study has indicated that there have been 122,000 deaths in excess of the ‘normal’ levels across these nations, considerably higher than the 77,000 official Covid-19 deaths reported for the same places and time periods. They reported at the time (the last week of April) that if the same level of under-reporting was happening worldwide, the global Covid-19 death toll would rise from the current official total of 201,000 to as high as 318,0004. That is an increase of 58% over the official figures. If that is the case today it would translate the current 297,197 deaths into about 470,000.

While most people know that Trumpistan (the US) has the highest number of deaths (84,106) of any nation, on a per capita basis it is not the worst. That honour among the countries I examined, surprisingly belongs to Belgium which has about 737 deaths per million. This is followed by those countries you’d expect: Spain which has 589 deaths per million; Italy with 518; the UK with 489; France with 417; Sweden with 346; Ireland with 299; and the USA with 254. It is interesting to note that of the countries I examined, those with the lowest rates of death per million population were Australia, Singapore, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea, all with rates of about 0-5 per million, with Taiwan being the lowest at about 0.3 per million (i.e. 7 deaths in a population of 23 million)5. All of these are ‘island’ nations with no land borders, except for South Korea, which is effectively an island as the cross-border travel to and from the northern part of the peninsula is extremely limited. So, when facing a pandemic, it may pay to be an island.


  1. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-politics-52648345/pmqs-starmer-asks-why-virus-comparison-graphs-have-gone
  3. https://www.thedailybeast.com/team-trump-pushes-cdc-to-dial-down-covid-death-counts
  4. https://www.ft.com/content/6bd88b7d-3386-4543-b2e9-0d5c6fac846c
  5. http://www.blotreport.com/2020/04/21/want-to-buy-a-harbour-bridge/

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