The Problems Of Comparing COVID-19 Around The World

The way coronavirus deaths are counted is under comparison between countries – but does it really matter?

Governments have no accepted standard in how the cause of death is recorded.

Even within the European Union, which has many standardised rules, comparisons are impossible.

Germany has a low level of COVID-19 casualties and has included deaths in care homes and hospitals in daily statistics, but the only care home deaths registered as caused by the virus are those confirmed as testing positive.

In neighbouring Belgium, the death rate for a much smaller population seems high, but the daily figures include any death where doctors consider the virus may have been a contributory factor.

Do the statistics matter?

America has seen 66,000 deaths from a population of 330 million, while the populations of the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain add up to about the same but between them, they have suffered 108,000 deaths.

Testing is a comparison fraught with problems as well.

Until this week, the UK only tested hospital patients, which can make the number of positive cases seem much higher than in a country that has a broader base that includes a lot of negative cases.

The takeaway is governments need a common pandemic strategy covering how and when to report deaths and to assess testing so scientists and doctors have meaningful data to analyse.

The statistics don’t really make a difference – the pandemic is still taking lives however much anyone tries to make sense of the data.

COVID-19 deaths and cases – Top 10 worst affected countries

Country Cases Deaths New deaths Cases per 1m people Deaths per 1m people Total tests Tests per 1m people
USA 1,077,347 62,433 778 3,255 189 6,210,432 18,762
Spain 239,639 24,543 268 5,125 525 1,455,306 31,126
Italy 205,463 27,967 285 3,398 463 1,979,217 32,735
UK 171,253 26,771 674 2,523 394 901,905 13,286
France 166,420 24,087 2,550 369 463,662 7,103
Germany 162,123 6,518 51 1,935 78 2,547,052 30,400
Turkey 120,204 3,174 93 1,425 38 1,033,617 12,255
Russia 106,498 1,073 101 730 7 3,490,000 23,915
Iran 94,640 6,028 71 1,127 72 463,295 5,516
China 82,862 4,633 58 3
Brazil 80,246 5,541 30 378 26 339,552 1,597
World 3,274,346 231,473 3,444 420 29.7

Source: Worldometer

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