Disease X-19

Michael Novakhov – SharedNewsLinks℠: Coronavirus world view: A country-by-country round-up as deaths, infection rates and safety measures vary wildly across the world

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International comparisons have been used by politicians, the press and public all over the world during the coronavirus pandemic. While some countries have enforced strict lockdowns, others have tried a softer approach. The entire world has the same goal: reduce the number of Covid-19 cases to zero. Yet different approaches have resulted in wildly different outcomes, as we analyse here.


Donald Trump infamously dismissed the “China virus”, as he refers to it, as a “Democrat hoax” for several weeks before reality set in leading the President to take a somewhat more serious approach to dealing with Covid-19.


But his dismissal of the coronavirus for so long set in train a series of events that has seen the US have by far and away the highest death toll of more than 170,000 people and an average of more than 50,000 new cases every day so far this month.

Belatedly appearing in public wearing a face mask for the first time last month – after saying he could not see himself doing so weeks earlier – marked a shift in tone but not in public opinion. A recent Fox News poll showed Trump is trailing his presidential rival Joe Biden by 8 points, largely as a result of how badly Americans believe he has handled the Covid crisis.

Trump’s message that the pandemic is China’s fault, and the only reason the US death toll is not even worse is because of his quick action in banning travel from China, has failed to mask serious faults in a limp national response plagued by delays at the federal level.

United Kingdom

The UK decided against an early lockdown only doing so from 23 March, despite all the warning signs from Italy. Neil Ferguson, an adviser to the Government until he was forced to resign from his post, has said that an earlier lockdown could have resulted in 20,000 fewer deaths. European leaders were amazed that public events such as the Liverpool v Athletico Madrid Champions League match and the Cheltenham Festival went ahead as other countries shut down.

Although Public Health England revised its Covid death toll down by over 5,000 this week, separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies show there have been 56,800 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate. At the end of July, the Office for National Statistics revealed the UK had the highest excess death toll in Europe since 14 March with 55,763 deaths. It was the first time the ONS compared mortality rates in different countries to measure the impact of the pandemic. Boris Johnson has promised a public inquiry – but not now.

South Korea

South Korea has arguably had the best response to the outbreak of any country in the world, given its proximity to China and the amount of travel between the two countries. Having learnt from the SARS crisis of 2002-03, the country already had the infrastructure in place to deal with the next pandemic’s arrival. It also meant a greater willingness among people to comply with restrictions on movement and daily life to prevent the spread of infection. Just 305 deaths have been recorded from almost 15,000 cases with 6 deaths per 1 million people.

It ran far more tests per capita than all other countries at the start of the outbreak allowing the country to ease restrictions as early as April. There was a small spike in cases of coronavirus in and around Seoul in June and although schools reopened months ago, authorities were quick to close them again when new cases were detected.

Authorities also controlled the potential spread of Covid-19 by using high-tech resources like tracking the use of credit cards and checking CCTV footage of confirmed patients.


“Perhaps the biggest threat to Brazil’s Covid-19 response is its president, Jair Bolsonaro,” The Lancet declared in an editorial in May. The country has become a textbook example in how not to deal with a pandemic as cases and deaths soared with many people blaming a blasé leader who had declared “So what?” when asked by journalists about the rapidly increasing numbers of cases.

Luiz Henrique Mandetta, the respected and well liked Health Minister, was sacked after a television interview in April, in which he strongly criticised Bolsonaro’s actions and called for unity.

At any rate, a united Government would have found it almost impossible to control the spread of the disease in the country given around 13 million Brazilians live in favelas, often with more than three people per room and little access to clean water. And where physical distancing and hygiene recommendations are near impossible to follow.

Brazil now has more than 3 million cases – the US is the only country that fares worse. From the outset Bolsonaro played down the virus, despite getting it himself, calling it a little flu and accusing the media of hysteria – and then he caught it. Natalia Pasternak, a  microbiologist and broadcaster, summed up the nation’s response this week when asked how well she thought Brazil had coped. “We failed”, she said.


Swedes have had the eyes of the world on them during the pandemic as it opted for a light-touch lockdown while the rest of Europe imposed stringent restrictions. Intriguingly, the politicians made way for the scientists in Sweden who have been controlling the nation’s response. Many commentators in the UK have pointed to the fact Sweden has fared better than the UK in terms of lives lost per capita and a softer economic hit: its economy shrank 8.6 per cent between April and June period compared with the EU average of 11.9 per cent – and a UK fall of 20.4 per cent.

Sweden has largely relied on voluntary social distancing guidelines since the start of the pandemic, including working from home where possible and avoiding public transport. A paper published this week found that the coronavirus infection rate in Stockholm is almost the same as London at 17 per cent, but experts criticised the findings as there was no data beyond April shown in the research. Sweden opted for a “herd immunity” approach – as the UK initially considered then dropped – but to say it had not been achieved is a bit premature.

The authors do say, however, that only once the pandemic and impact of measures taken are fully understood, after one or two years at least, can we begin fairly then to judge what was done correctly. In terms of deaths, Sweden has suffered greatly compared to its Nordic neighbours with officials admitting to a “big failure” in preventing elderly deaths.


Not so long ago an economic basket case that needed bailing out by the European Union, Greece showed discipline and resilience in its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. As the virus spread across Europe the nation – with an aged population – feared the worse and thought it would become another Spain or Italy. It has also only tested a very small percentage of its population leading experts to say Greece has defied the odds.

Officials were quick to enforce social distancing measures and fortify its ailing health care system which, along with a willingness from most Greeks to comply with the orders, helped curb the outbreak. Giorgos Gerapetritis, the Greek minister of state, said they “acted preemptively” and that the Government “consciously preferred to make a significant financial sacrifice rather than sacrifice human life”.

However, with so few people tested, it is impossible to accurately gauge just how well the country has done. The country is also heavily reliant on tourism so the long term effects of the pandemic are likely to be greater than can currently be seen.


Italy has had one of the worst death tolls related to coronavirus in Europe having failed to control the spread early on. Awful scenes of hospitals overwhelmed with Covid patients led news broadcasts for several weeks amid warnings that the UK was always “two weeks behind”.

The impact was so devastating that two Italian doctors called the pandemic “the most serious event in Italian history after World War II”. The sudden impact of Covid led to broad acceptance of lockdown measures and national leaders, after some initial confusion over who was in charge, devised a more centralised plan that regional governors could follow.

Strict lockdown restrictions were imposed early which at least allowed Italy to turn the situation around quicker than other similarly affected countries have been able to do. Some workplaces and parks reopened as early as 4 May while further travel restrictions easing from the beginning of June.

New Zealand

Jacinda Ardern’s government has been determined to eradicate Covid from the country, which they successfully managed to for 102 days – until this week when four cases from a single house in Auckland prompted the Prime Minister to place her country’s largest city back into lockdown. Nevertheless, the nation’s ability to squash the spread of Covid-19 made New Zealand the envy of the world as daily life returned to normal – although being an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no major international hubs has undoubtedly helped politicians.

Swift action was key to keeping the number of cases and deaths incredibly low at 1,589 and 22 respectively. For months, New Zealand has imposed strict immigration controls – aside from some exceptions, the border is closed to all non-New Zealanders, and anyone entering the country must spend 14 days in a state quarantine facility. The country’s performance is in stark contrast to its neighbour Australia, which is still dealing with hundreds of new cases a day.

And even with a closed border, the New Zealand economy is expected to shrink by just 3.9 per cent this year and recover later in the following year, according to a report published last month.

Michael Novakhov – SharedNewsLinks℠