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Covid-19 Death Rates - European Comparisons

Updated: Apr 26

Three weeks ago I posted a blog article that looked at variations in Covid-19 case rates across the England adjusted for population levels. Much of the media analysis at that time was focused on the total number of cases which, not surprisingly, was in London. My desire to look at case rate per head of population was to remove the biasing fact that London is also home to millions of people so one would expect it to have high case incidence. Of course, there are significant variations in the levels of testing across England which potentially distort the picture and undermine the identification of unusual hot-spots. Nevertheless it prompted discussion which is what I hoped it would achieve.


Three weeks on and as the virus has taken hold internationally we can, sadly, begin to look at variations in death incidence adjusted for population. Across Europe there were differences in both the speed with which countries responded to the threat of the pandemic and in the level of restrictions placed upon their populations.


The map below shows data sourced from John Hopkins University's Covid dashboard with data reported up to 17-April 2020. As with reported cases, much of media's attention has been on the high absolute numbers of deaths reported in Italy, Spain and increasingly France and the UK. Yet, when populations are taken into account, there are some interesting observations.

The western side of Europe illustrates both high absolute numbers of deaths and high rates per capita. Spain, whilst having lower number of deaths has a population about 75% that of Italy giving it a higher incidence per capita than Italy. The highest incidence per capita is actually San Marino, landlocked in Northern Italy with a very low population. Of the more populous nations, Belgium has the highest recorded deaths per capita. Questions have been asked in the media as to why Belgium has such a high incidence and it may in part be due to the way deaths are recorded. This article by Sky News reports how Belgium diligently records deaths everywhere, not just in hospitals. Furthermore if there is a suspicion that Covid is the cause of death they assume it is until proven otherwise. It is worth noting that Italy, France and the UK will all move into the next shading band in the next week or two. Switzerland, which is starting to emerge from lockdown currently sits towards the lower end of its shading band so will soon have a more positive look than its neighbours.


Sweden and Denmark are also worth considering as they have had well-documented differences in their approach to managing the spread of the virus. As of 17-April, Sweden had 1400 deaths compared to Denmark's 336. When adjusted for population the figures are 140 and 60 respectively. At present, due to the nature of the bands created by the logarithmic scale, both countries are shaded within the same band. Sweden is likely days away from moving into the next shading band however which will highlight a real difference in the two countries' relative approach to management.


The other notable success in managing the virus is Portugal which reacted very quickly to impose controls and restrictions on its population. Its geographical proximity to Spain makes it all the more striking. A not too dissimilar comparison might be made between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.


Since this is a far from static picture I will return to it on a weekly basis and publish a new map every 7 days. It will, I think, give a good handle on how much control each country has on the spread of the virus.


Update 25-Apr


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