Tragically, infections are increasing and the death toll still rising. New infections increased by 74,000 on Tuesday to 1,400,000 active cases. Deaths on Tuesday numbered 6,981 bringing the total above 126,000.
There appears no immediate prospect of an end to the measures now in place to slow the spread of the virus. But there may be signs that those measures are taking effect.
The grim reality
Countries most severely affected are in Europe, with the USA rapidly rising. The current graph of deaths per million shows that of the 16 countries with the highest toll, 15 are in Europe. The other is the USA. We will come back to this.
One hopeful sign may be seen in the number of recovered patients reported when measured against those still suffering from the infection. For several weeks, the only country with more recoveries than active cases was China, whose data may not be reliable. Elsewhere, the disparity between the two measures was stark — and in many countries increasing alarmingly each day.
Both these numbers – recovered and active cases – are provided for every nation by Worldometers, which is now the go-to site for global data.
Recoveries in South Korea
Among developed nations with reliable data, South Korea showed on March 27 that 4,811 patients had recovered while only 4,523 were still infected. This was the first time a major advanced country saw the balance tilt in that direction.
Smaller nations with the same excess of recovered patients over active cases included Brunei, Liechtenstein, the Maldives, Iceland, Gibraltar and Bermuda. But with such tiny populations, conclusions drawn from these were tenuous.
Then last Friday, April 10, the number of recoveries in Australia clicked above the recorded active cases, 3,043. Australia became the second developed country to achieve this after South Korea.
Then followed Switzerland on April 11, Austria and Germany on the 13th, Uruguay on the 14th and Malaysia on the 15th. This is shown visually via the blue bars on the blue chart, above.
Several poorer, developing countries – which may or may not have accurate data – also show this positive ratio. They include China, Thailand, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam and a few African countries. The latter may be yet to experience the full force of the epidemic, however.
Several other countries are now approaching break-even, as shown in the taller red columns towards the left of the blue graph, above. These include New Zealand, Spain, Hong Kong, Bahrain and Denmark. (The fifty countries in this graph are classified by the UNDP as very highly developed with populations above one million. This omits the United Kingdom which, strangely, does not provide numbers of recoveries.)
As always, the validity of the graphs, the analysis and conclusions are commensurate with the quality of the data. We assume that because these countries are highly developed with established statutory authorities and a strong presence of global agencies that their data is reliable.
Country notes: Australia
The strict enforcement of social distancing by state authorities together with the federal Government’s guidelines appear to be effective. At least, in comparison with other developed countries. It is arguable that Australia benefits also from its distance from Europe and China and its low population density. Whatever the factors, the trends are certainly in the right direction.
Having taken decisive action early, South Korea has been the stand-out nation in curbing the infection rate and completing a near-perfect bell curve before other countries. Its peak infection rate was on March 3, whereas Australia’s was March 30.
Unfortunately, the tail of South Korea’s curve has proven to be extremely long with a worrying continuation of new infections and the associated fatalities.
The United States
Deaths recorded in America on Tuesday were the highest ever at 2,407. This follows two days of lower numbers than in the last week, at around 1,500, so it is possible this is a reporting glitch over the Easter weekend. New infections reported on Tuesday increased slightly on the day before, after three daily declines.
Disturbingly, the USA has now become the world’s new epicentre. With only 4.25% of the world’s population, the USA currently has 39.4% of all active cases.
Or, put another way, the nine most infected countries in the world, in order, are: the USA, Italy, France, Spain, the UK, Germany, Turkey, the Netherlands and Iran. Of these nine, the USA now has more active cases than all the other eight combined. This is despite having less than two thirds the population.
How has this come about? The silver chart at the top of this article shows the seven worst-affected countries are in Western Europe. There are no borders between them, apart from the narrow channel between England and France. Even that has a land tunnel underneath. So well before the epidemic in northern Italy was identified, thousands of infected travellers had driven or hitch-hiked or taken a bus or train to neighbouring countries a few hours away.
Fortunately, most countries connected to Italy only by air or sea observed Italy’s devastation and commenced mitigating measures. The USA was very late to take action, not closing air travel from Britain until March 14.
By then it was too late, as shown in the green chart which compares death rates for all highly developed countries outside Europe. The virus had already landed in New York and other states with high foreign air traffic and was spreading rapidly. Other measures adopted elsewhere, such as business closures and stay-at-home orders, were not implemented in a timely manner, where they were applied at all.
The USA is currently languishing near the tail of our blue chart which shows the ratio of recoveries to active cases. We shall see in due course how this shifts over time.