The Problems Of Comparing COVID-19 Around The World

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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

CountryCasesDeathsNew deathsCases per 1m peopleDeaths per 1m peopleTotal testsTests per 1m people
USA1,077,34762,4337783,2551896,210,43218,762
Spain239,63924,5432685,1255251,455,30631,126
Italy205,46327,9672853,3984631,979,21732,735
UK171,25326,7716742,523394901,90513,286
France166,42024,0872,550369463,6627,103
Germany162,1236,518511,935782,547,05230,400
Turkey120,2043,174931,425381,033,61712,255
Russia106,4981,07310173073,490,00023,915
Iran94,6406,028711,12772463,2955,516
China82,8624,633583
Brazil80,2465,5413037826339,5521,597
     
World3,274,346231,4733,44442029.7

Source: Worldometer

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