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Post-Christmas Covid in all selected countries & world

The change of year 2020-21 has seen challenges to human health intensified by Covid-19’s multiple mutations into new variants, some of which are far more contagious and potentially more serious than last year’s. Alongside this, governmental indecision and concerns about the pandemic’s economic implications are reflected in public impatience with restrictions; widespread rebellions have led to bigger outbreaks with consequential upticks in community spread.

On the plus side, many communities are on board with public precautions and have sufficient support by their governing bodies. Public health systems, which are stretched past their limits in most cases, continue rising to the pandemic’s onslaught with improved knowledge and considerable courage. Vaccination programmes are rolling out across the globe – unequally, to be sure, but we need global immunity and every fall in infection transmission rates helps to slow the virus down.

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UK | Germany | France | Italy | Spain | Canada | Portugal | Netherlands | Belgium | Sweden | Austria | Switzerland | Denmark | Norway | Finland | Luxembourg | Ireland | USA | discrepancy notes

Global increases driven by Europe & North America

The last three months, Nov-Jan, have seen an 86% increase in coronavirus deaths worldwide: 1,037,520 more dead in just three months. 42% were in Europe (437,085) and 29% in North America (301,267).

The final week of January 2021 was the world’s worst, with 100,000 deaths: 14,000 per day.

Almost a fifth of global deaths happened in January (18%), with a whopping 39% of them coming from Europe. This is despite having less than 10% of the world’s population!


The UK’s contribution to European mortality has rocketed.

Population-wise, the UK is 9% of the European continent. Through October – December 2020, we more or less matched this with 10% of the region’s Covid deaths. In January 2021, this more than doubled to 21%.

January’s deaths were more than twice December’s, and more people died in the UK than any other European country. Covid-19 took 17,000 souls in the last two weeks of the month, averaging 1,200 per day.

The virus has increased our average mortality by 19%, meaning it’s killed one extra person with every 5 who would have died in the normal run of things.

November – January doubled our coronavirus death toll.

The good news is that infection rates are going down, despite the circulation of several worrying new Covid-19 variants.

They are still very high, though: we’re going to need a lot more lockdown, unfortunately, unless people stop infecting each other.

The vaccination programme’s proceeding quickly and, while it will not stop the virus circulating for some considerable time, we should see encouraging developments from March onwards. But this month’s going to be tough.


Europe’s second largest country after Russia, Germany has a population 24% larger than the UK’s, and represents 11% of the whole region. It has only suffered 8% of the continent’s coronavirus deaths; this low proportion was largely due to their fast and efficient response when the pandemic first took hold.

After an amazing October & November, when Germans accounted for just 3.6% of Europe’s coronavirus mortality, a rapid seasonal hike took them to 11.6% in December and 15% in January. Christmas is a major event there, usually stretching over six weeks and extremely sociable. While the government clamped down with bans on markets and wine festivals, people rebelled by holding impromptu events. All the same, they did markedly better than the UK with a maximum spike of 6,000 deaths in mid-January.

Christmas increased Germany’s normal mortality by 7% – far less than the UK’s, although it’s a significant rise on October, when it was just 2%. Three-quarters of their total deaths happened in November – January, totalling 4.5 times all their deaths before November.

Even with a slow vaccination rollout, infection rates have dropped sharply in Germany. At 80 per 100,000 it’s only a third of our rate; logic says their mortality will quickly fall back to previous levels.


France has been under pandemic restrictions since March 2020; the only thing that’s varied is the severity. There is currently a 6pm-6am curfew, with most other controls voluntary but those who can work from home are encouraged to do so. Schools have been on limited hours since last April, with universities mostly closed all year.

Despite vociferous complaints, the country is on the whole in agreement with its government’s controls, even demanding stricter rules. They suffered a dreadful few weeks in the Spring – then saw the rapid benefits of a super-hard lockdown. France is the UK’s closest match for population size and demographics; they have coped 25% better with the pandemic so far, having suffered 79,000 deaths to our 112,000.

As in the UK, November – January doubled France’s Covid death toll. The country is battling new variants but infection rates have slowed down and vaccinations are now rolling out.


The pandemic’s arrival in Italy shocked us all, leaving the country scarred by both a sudden flood of fatalities and the consequences of a poorly-planned hard lockdown. Italians’ resultant willingness to comply with, and exceed, government restrictions led to a very fast reduction in pandemic mortality and a wonderfully quiet summer. As new variants started making themselves known in November 2020, deaths rose again but people quickly re-adjusted: the traditionally huge family Christmas was mostly abandoned, so there was no January spike.

All the same, November-January doubled Italy’s coronavirus deaths. Across the 47 weeks, their ‘people per death’ ratio is 664, just 10% better than ours in the UK.


Like Italy, Spain was stormed by Covid-19 in Spring 2020. With frantic restructuring of regional health authorities and some very stringent activity controls, the country pulled off a superb reduction in pandemic deaths. But tourism’s important to Spain’s economy: they re-opened the coastal resorts, bringing new infections with new variants. This led to a steady increase in coronavirus deaths through the autumn, followed by the re-introduction of heavy restrictions. The government cancelled Christmas and New Year.

Going against tradition, Spaniards gave up their New Year celebrations. As a result, they narrowly avoided a January spike and a doubling of their deaths: November – January account for 37% of Spain’s total coronavirus mortality so far. Daily deaths are now rising, though.


With a similar population size to Spain, but a vastly different distribution and culture, Canada has only experienced a third of Spain’s mortality. There is significant resistance to the idea of activity controls and, with a ‘people per death’ ratio of 1 in 1,800, most Canadians will still be unaware of anyone close to them who has died of Covid-19. They failed to control the spread over Christmas, doubling their pandemic mortality in three months.More encouragingly, daily deaths are now falling again.


If you look at Portugal’s line (purple) in the header image, their momentous rise in coronavirus mortality becomes obvious. Their recent rate of increase is even steeper than the UK’s and, as they started from a much lower base, the effect is even more dramatic.

In just 8 weeks, they have passed 6 countries’ mortality rates within our watched group.

Like Spain, Portugal was economically driven to encourage tourism in summer 2020. The resulting rise in Covid infection seemed manageable until January this year; now it looks almost out of control.

Portugal has close links with Brazil – and also with the UK. Its people are now suffering the effects of both the Brazilian variant and the English ‘Kent’ mutation. After a brilliant reorganisation of the country’s cash-poor health service in the Spring, that service is now creaking at the seams with little left to give. There was a nasty January spike following Christmas & New Year.

In the three months of November to January, Portuguese deaths were four times all the preceding months added together. Over the same three months, their pandemic-related increase on normal average mortality rocketed from 4% to 14%.

Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden

Like Portugal, these countries have between 10 and 20 million population.


After an effective total lockdown in Spring 2020, the Netherlands has followed a finely-judged pandemic control system whose unstated aim seems to be keeping daily deaths below 50. This has been successful until the arrival of more infectious variants in November. While the country avoided dramatic spikes this winter, November to January’s pandemic deaths have doubled their previous total.

Dutch infection rates are falling. Recent anti-curfew riots won’t help, though it remains to be seen what effect they will have.

The Netherlands has a sophisticated public health service, but heavy snow has forced vaccination centres to close.


Belgium’s the only country analysing all its deaths in real time. While this goes some way to explain their exceptionally high pandemic mortality (ie, it’s the most honest picture), Belgium also contends with a densely-settled population whose economy revolves around international commerce. This naturally led to multiple appearances of all the new variants, with rapid mortality increases through November – December.

Despite being an individualistic nation with a marked dislike of government controls, Belgians have largely followed its government’s detailed advice as required. Consequently, they coped without Christmas and avoided further increases in January.

Vaccinations are under way, and infection rates have already fallen.


Despite the Swedish government’s admissions that it got its coronavirus strategy wrong, Brits keep holding the Scandinavian nation up as an example of successful ‘herd immunity’. It is not. The only safe way to achieve genuine herd immunity is through mass vaccination, not risking a population’s lives in hopes that enough of them will come through unharmed.

Fortunately, most Swedes understand this and took the proper precautions without being told to, keeping their country’s Covid mortality in the middle of our selected countries. But it’s still 10 times worse than their nearest neighbours.

Sweden’s lackadaisical reporting makes it harder to see short-term trends, but the weekly chart shows us a large post-Christmas spike with a possible decline in Covid-19 deaths into February.

Countries with under 10 million population


Austria saw very fast mortality rises in November – December 2020, spoiling their previously superb record. Strict controls are now in place and deaths are reducing slowly.


Christmas in Switzerland was one of the worst in our group. Pandemic deaths through November – January totalled three times the toll of the previous eight months since it started. Because the country did so well before November, the Swiss mortality ratio is still moderate at 1 in 900 people – but the virus has now added 15% to their normally expected deaths. Daily deaths are now on the decline again.


The third-best performer in our watched group of countries, Denmark had a bit of a bad Christmas. The November – January period more than doubled their Covid death toll but, as it had previously been extremely low, only elevated normal average mortality by 5%. Just 1 in 2,600 Danes has died of the coronavirus.

Daily deaths are now back to their April high, and falling quickly.

Norway & Finland

Between them, Norway and Finland have roughly the same population as their larger neighbour Sweden, and a very similar profile. Their combined coronavirus death tolls are one tenth of Sweden’s (582+688=1,270 compared with 12,115).


At just 107 deaths per thousand, Norway makes it into the 20 most Covid-safe countries, which is otherwise dominated by Australasia. The virus has killed 1 in 9,359 Norwegians so, unlike Brits at 1 in 608, they are unlikely to know anyone who died from Covid-19. And they’re keeping it that way.

Norway did have a slight elevation at Christmas, but their peak Covid mortality was just 6 souls per day.


Also in “How to do a pandemic”, Finland has kept its overall mortality increase to 1%. Their Christmas was slightly worse than Norway’s, with 5 December deaths a day instead of 3, but January was much the same in both countries. Only 1 in 8,000 Finns has died from Covid-19.


Too small to feature in these charts normally, Luxembourg is included because of its central position within the watched selection. Having a dense and very international population, it’s at fairly high risk from the pandemic and has maintained a middle position among its neighbours; approx 1 in 1,000 of its residents have been killed by the coronavirus.

They had quite a bad Christmas, losing 423 people through November – January. This is 2.7 times the number of deaths before November, making Luxembourg’s experience only slightly better than Switzerland’s in this regard.


Ireland’s handled the pandemic a lot better than the UK, keeping its people alive twice as well: the coronavirus has killed 1 in 1,353 Irish people compared to our 1 in 608. They didn’t quite manage to ignore Christmas & New Year: January brought a spike in Covid deaths, which is still trailing into February. This spike was still less than April’s, though.


It’s been a chaotic year in America, and its pandemic response has been as complicated as everything else. Due to the country’s giant size and its federal structure, Covid-19’s spread was uneven with some states pulling out all the stops for their people, while others even had Covid-denying governors. Each state is roughly the size of a European country, so we would expect similar variance here. But the picture is very different:

The USA’s population is 44% the size of Europe’s.
Its Covid death toll is 71% the size of Europe’s!

This makes the USA 60% worse than Europe as a whole, in terms of Covid mortality. Italy, the UK and Belgium have worse population mortality but the USA is a definite world-beater in absolute numbers: with 474,000 reported coronavirus deaths today, it accounts for 22% of reported world deaths while having only 4% of the population.

America never had a summer reprieve from the virus, and the ‘festive’ season took a massive penalty in deaths. Worryingly, their daily average has actually gone up in the past week so it looks as if this is far from over. The virus has caused a 19% increase on US mortality, as in the UK.


Most reporting bodies make retrospective adjustments to their Covid mortality figures, which make their daily reports differ from their totals – if you add up all the daily reports, few will come to the same figure as their total deaths. These charts only use totals.

There can be a number of reasons for this. Some very likely are fudging their figures, but in most cases it’s due to the logistical nightmares of collating a whole nation’s death reports in a few hours. Spain and the USA, for instance, had issues with some regional bodies double-counting and others failing to report. In April 2020, the UK found it had omitted several thousand coronavirus deaths and added them back in one go.

Different countries make different investments in their pandemic reporting. At one end of the spectrum is Belgium, whose high numbers are at least partially explained by their early decision to beef up their public health department. It’s the only country performing immediate examinations of every single death, and reporting them within hours. At the other end is Sweden, for example, which doesn’t report every day and makes frequent large adjustments.

Another common reason is a change in reporting policy. Among many other countries, the UK altered its definition of coronavirus deaths in the middle of 2020. We now include all, but only, those who died within 28 days of a positive test (it’s actually more like 24 days, due to the cutoff points for both the test and the death). After making this change, several thousand deaths disappeared from our total.

By and large it’s unimportant but worth knowing. There are times when it is very relevant, though – it explains why the UK’s April mortality looked excruciatingly high, and also why we appear to have had less than zero coronavirus deaths in August.


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