Joining the dots. A bit more context for coronavirus lockdowns

Today we have two charts attempting to put some context around the coronavirus pandemic and the value of lockdowns.

Deaths and infections on their own mean little. Five hundred deaths in Germany, pop. 83 million, is numerically insignificant. The same in the Falkland Islands, pop. 3,300, would be a disaster.

So which countries are doing well or badly in terms of deaths per million population relative to the number of infections they’ve identified per million?

The main takeaway from this list is that there isn’t a strong correlation between countries’ rate of identified infection and their apparent Covid-19 death rate. We have to say ‘apparent’ because the level of testing varies widely and so many countries currently label everyone who dies with the virus as a Covid-19 statistic, irrespective of their existing conditions and nearness to death.

The UK, which is near the bottom of the world top 40 for confirmed cases per million (36th), is seventh worst for deaths.

Iceland, which has the world’s sixth highest rate of confirmed infections, is 29th in terms of deaths. Relatively speaking the UK’s death rate is over 30 times higher than Iceland.

Very small countries get into the “most infected” list easily because it only takes a few confirmations to give them a high rate per million. Vatican City is a case in point. Six infections and no deaths but top of the global infections-per-million list by virtue of its tiny population of just 800.

The second chart, below, tracks the rise in daily new positive tests in Italy and the UK from the time when each country registered it’s 100th case (Day 1 on the x-axis). Italy reached that milestone two weeks before the UK, which is why the Italy data series has 14 more points.

Daily new cases in Italy reached over 6,000 just over three weeks after passing the 100 mark. Since then they’ve trended slowly down to around the 5,000 a day mark as the epidemic dies down in the north and intensifies in the south.

On the face of it, the UK is following Italy’s track. We locked down 12 days after our 100th confirmation. Italy locked down nationally on the 13th day, although large areas of the north went into lockdown a few days earlier than that.

As for evidence whether lockdown does enough good to warrant its astronomical societal and economic cost, the data doesn’t help much.

The chart says you lock down and then daily new positive tests go on climbing rapidly for two weeks. You could say things would be even worse without lockdown but we’ll only know that when it’s all over and we can compare against places that didn’t lockdown.

In any case, the science and data are irrelevant when all that governments seem to be doing is responding to hysterical screaming from the media based on numbers, not rates.

Now India has locked down for God’s sake. A thousand cases and 29 deaths among 1.4 billion people. If somebody randomly chose one dot in a Seurat painting without telling you which, then blindfolded you and asked you to throw a dart at the canvas, you’d have more chance of hitting their dot than bumping into an Indian with coronavirus.

It’s utterly insane, though not much more so than most other countries.

Main image: A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat from Wikimedia Commons

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