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Let’s Compare a few Countries

By September 4, 2020September 10th, 2020Commentary

The US reached an interesting milestone today.  We caught up to Sweden in deaths per capita.  Deaths per capita is the best way to do a comparison of one important outcome from the epidemic.  It should be age adjusted, and adjusted by other factors to be really accurate and useful.  But even the raw numbers give you some sense when you compare countries.  Using the Worldometer site (Worldometer)   we can look at several countries–US, Sweden, Brazil, Peru and New Zealand and think about the apparent effect or lack of effect of certain policies.

Sweden has 577 deaths per million of population.  It has a moderate testing approach so you don’t see some crazy number of tests that are only catching clinically and epidemiologically irrelevant cases.  There is a background level of cases but almost no deaths.  Sweden was battered by critics for not locking down in any significant way.  The country has a dense metropolitan area, and many recent immigrants, so it isn’t as unlike other countries as is sometimes portrayed.  They had a very liberal approach to reporting CV-19 deaths and most occurred among the elderly, especially in nursing homes.  They aren’t getting much criticism now.

The US has 578 deaths per million population and has an insane testing number, almost the highest in the entire world.  We have a very old, very minority and relatively unhealthy population, which affects the level of serious cases.  We have pretty much tailed off to a background level of cases and deaths.  The US has had very tough lockdowns almost everywhere, and still has very strict restrictions in most states, including those magical mask mandates.  Despite the lockdowns we have states like New York and New Jersey that have three times the national average in deaths.  Our deaths are also concentrated among the elderly and in long-term care facilities.  Despite the far more restrictive approach, we are going to end up with a higher death rate than Sweden.

New Zealand still gets some plaudits for its obsession with suppressing the virus.  It only appears to be successful because it is a relatively isolated island.   They must be betting on a vaccine because you cannot suppress this virus forever, and frankly, why would you try.  They have no tourism, a foundation of the economy, and no international trade, another foundation of the economy.  But they do have only 5 deaths per million people.  They have a lot of people who wish they were dead, living like that.

Brazil is another country that was pilloried for not caring about what the epidemic was doing to people.  Brazil currently has a death rate of 587 per million.  Brazil has a number of cities with very high population densities.  They have done moderate testing.  They are now well over the curve, heading to the long tail toward just the basic background level of cases and deaths.  No severe lockdowns.

Peru is the clearest lesson of not just the futility of lockdowns, but the likelihood that they contribute to spread.  Peru has the harshest set of lockdowns in the world and has had them for a long time.  Peru has a death rate of 890 per million, the highest in the world.  They still have a troubling level of cases and deaths.  They may want to consider letting up on the lockdowns and seeing if things improve.

You can skim different countries on the site and draw your own conclusions.  Looks to me like most countries end up in roughly the same place, if you adjusted for age and population health, without regard to harshness of mitigation of spread tactics deployed.

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