Since media coverage of the pandemic is often skewed beyond all proportion, let’s stick to the numbers because it is often those that tell a far more intriguing story. So here are a few fact-based questions about Covid-19. The answers (available here) are almost certain to surprise.
Which country has the highest death rate per population?
Belgium. That’s right, not the US, Italy or Spain. Belgium has 490 deaths per million people. Double that of the UK, at 237 (although Britain seems determined to rejoin Europe in the worst kind of way). And 10 times higher than Austria at 50. No coverage, no answers, no theories.
Which country has done the second-highest number of tests in the world?
Russia. To date, they have administered more than two million tests. That is more than France, Germany, Italy, Spain or the UK. The only country ahead of them is the US. How did they do this? No coverage, no answers, no theories.
What is the highest death rate so far anywhere in the world?
- A) 1%. B) 3%. C) 5 %.
Trick question. The answer is 0.05%. I am leaving aside Andorra, which is a tiny principality smack in the heart of Spain. But so far no country has come close to losing even one percent of its population. No coverage. No answers, no theories.
Which country has to be regarded as the most successful in fighting Covid-19?
Of course, there is no clear answer yet. But Asia and Europe are the two continents where we have real figures. In Asia, it would appear to be Singapore, which has only 11 deaths to date. Singapore is an international hub of travel and commerce with a densely packed population. It reported its first confirmed coronavirus case on 23 January (two days after the US’s first case).
In Europe, there are arguably two answers. The first is Portugal. Surrounded by France and Spain, which are among the world’s least successful countries in dealing with the virus, it has a death rate of only 70 people per million, compared with France (302) and Spain (433).
One theory which has been put forward has to do with the BCG vaccine, which is administered in Portugal but not in its two neighbours. I would urge you to read this excellent article which gives a very balanced view of BCG.
The other European country which has astoundingly low death rates is, and I hate to admit this, Russia. Since I regard President Vladimir Putin as the man who helped install Donald Trump in the White House, this really sticks in my throat. With its masterful propaganda machine, Russia could well be underreporting its death rate of three per million, but since they are reporting roughly 4,500 new cases every day, even if they are understating their death rate by a factor of 10, they are still nowhere near the worst affected. So bang goes Professor Tim Noakes’ theory about diabetes and obesity being the leading cause of death due to Covid-19.
So there you have it. Proof positive that the Times of London, Al Jazeera, and CNN et al, are all chasing a story rather than chasing the facts. Big scary numbers mean big addictive bursts of adrenaline, which means lots of lovely lolly in advertising and increased viewing figures.
Please don’t think I am minimising the pandemic. The pictures of mass graves in New York, the national agonies of Italy and Spain, the health and transport workers around the world dying in unprecedented numbers, the online clips of doctors and nurses simply crushed beneath the weight of this ever-growing medical horror, are very scary and deeply traumatic to witness.
But if we look only at those images, we risk losing perspective. We may be in lockdown, but there is no need to be held hostage as well. DM