The world’s reported death toll is now 2,160,111. Coronavirus deaths are far from evenly distributed, although some of this will be due to data collection issues. Very large parts of Africa and some of Asia, plus a few other spots, have to deal with enormous distances, poor communications between scattered towns or villages, inadequate services and terrible budgets. There are problematic governments, systemic corruption and, to make things even harder, about half the world is either at war or coping with natural disasters (or both). Millions of people are on the move for one reason or another, making bureaucracy impossible, and in refugee camps where disease spreads like a flood that drowns what few services there are.
All this means we’re not getting the full picture. Covid’s real death toll must be over 3 million by now. We can only look at the information we’ve got – and it’s enough to highlight most major developments.
America’s had the most deaths but Europe’s rising faster
Nearly half of global Covid deaths (960,384) occurred in November – January. The number was very much driven by rapid escalation in Europe, whose share of global deaths has grown relentlessly.
Europe’s disproportionate mortality is itself driven by the UK, with 1% of the world’s people but 5% of its deaths. Sad and embarrassing. The USA is in a similar state, also with five times its fair share of mortalities (20:4). Brazil‘s managed this feat too, with 2.7% of world population and 10.1% of world deaths. Overall, Europe has a similar multiple to North America and South America – each region’s suffered roughly three times as many Covid deaths as its population would suggest, all things being equal.
Deaths per million shows a country’s mortality proportional to population. As you see in the second chart below, 11 out of the world’s 15 most Covid-deadly countries are in Europe. Three of the remaining four are in South America, and there’s the USA. The UK is third, behind Belgium and Slovenia – which have small populations, meaning a handful of deaths make a difference to their score. The UK has no such excuse.
The Central European countries are having a really bad time with the pandemic now. Having started Spring with strong rules, health checks and widespread public compliance, their resilience seems to have run out some time in late summer.
Australasia wins at Covid
17 of 20 best performers are in Asia & Oceana. The other three are Nicaragua, Venezuela and Norway. I’m not sure I believe Nicaragua, and Venezuela’s strange President probably doesn’t encourage accurate reporting. Norway, Europe’s shining example of how not to kill your people, has been extremely careful from the beginning and, as far as I know, Norwegians remain on board with their government’s caution.
South-East Asia has extensive experience of pandemic management. The majority of new human-contagious viruses originate there – for various reasons, largely to do with climate and sheer numbers: Asia holds half the world’s population. In Europe and North America we’ve been too laid-back about the inevitable dangers of new diseases, because Asia usually stops them in their tracks. Covid-19 was identified in December 2019 by Chinese health authorities. They’d notified the disease and sequenced its genome by mid-January. Countries in the region promptly launched a well-rehearsed routine of border controls, mandatory testing, personal responsibility and managed quarantine arrangements. Over here, it barely made the news.
Australia & New Zealand are close enough to S-E Asia to understand this kind of situation. When they closed their borders and ordered strong lockdowns, the rest of us were still wondering whether we needed to worry.
Covid-19 hasn’t left Asia. New lockdowns are needed regularly – used as ‘circuit breakers’, they tend to be localised and extremely strict for a few weeks at a time. Countries with fast & strong responses to viral threats suffer less economic and social damage, as well as saving their people’s lives. South Korea‘s Covid mortality is 54 times less than the UK’s.
A century ago, the Spanish Flu pandemic proved that the earlier, more forcefully and longer cities responded to the threat of infection, the better their economic recovery. It’s proving equally true now. Lessons to be learned!
Which Countries Have Responded Best to Covid-19? (Wall Street Journal)
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