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Half of the following statements are false. Find out which by interacting with the visualisation dashboard below.

  • France has done about 50 times more tests for every positive result compared to India.
  • The death rate in the USA is almost double the one in Ethiopia, with similar positive test ratios for the two countries.
  • Several European countries had a 100% increase in their total death counts (from all causes) for a couple of weeks this year.
  • The USA has 20 times more covid-19 related deaths per capita than China.
  • Italy has 20 times more confirmed cases per capita than Russia.
  • More people have died from covid-19 in 2020 so far, than the number of deaths caused by wars, violent crimes, terrorism, and drug abuse combined in a year (you might need to check some death data for this).

Confirmed cases is the number of people who have tested positive to covid-19. Of course, we don’t test everyone, so we are definitely missing the real number of infected. The question is, by how much? A good indication is to look at how many tests have been done for every positive result. If we have done 100 tests for every positive one (1% ratio), our total numbers are probably much more accurate than having done 2 tests for each positive one (50% ratio). Ok, so I can look at the total confirmed cases, and then on the positive ratio, come up with a fancy calculation formula and then I’ll know. Getting closer, but not there yet. Testing is carried out very differently in different parts of the world. Some countries count the number of people tested, others the number of samples tested, and for many countries we don’t even have data. Some countries test widely, some narrowly in high risk populations, others use track and test systems and so on. All these different approaches cannot be accurately quantified at this point, but some data is better than no data.

If confirmed cases are so complicated, we can just look at the death data, right? Sure. Just remember that covid-19 deaths are counted slightly differently in different places. Sometimes even on the same place in different times. For instance, in the UK, up until the 12 of August all deaths following a positive covid-19 test were counted in the covid-19 death sum. Then, officials decided to only include deaths occurring up until 28 days after the initial positive test cutting down the total number of deaths by over 5 thousand. In many other countries, covid-19 needs to be specifically listed in the causes of death of a patient. And of course, covid-19 is rarely the only cause of death, so how do I even know what the patient died from?! First of all, take a deep breath and relax. You can’t know, but the professionals filling out those death certificates have had some practice. This is not a new problem. Terminally ill people are very often challenged in multiple fronts. Another way to look at death data, is to simply sum up all deaths occurring over a week and compare the total sums with previous years. The gross simplification here is that any excess deaths this year should correspond to covid-19’s impact. True, but impact is not just people directly dying from covid-19, but also from the side effects of the pandemic. Like hospitals being full, patients avoiding to visit them out of fear and so on.

Recovery definitions similarly vary between countries. Additionally, as we are mostly focused in new cases, severe conditions and deaths we might be less effective tracking people that simply get better and wander off. For instance, the CDC guidelines for a covid-19 recovery includes two negative tests following infection and easing of symptoms. But what happens when there is a test shortage, or people simply fail to show up for additional testing? Some countries like the UK and Sweden don’t even provide any recovery data.

All the additional metrics should be seen in context of the above. The death rates only make sense if there is adequate testing to record reliable data on confirmed cases. Recovered ratios and active data depend on the accuracy (and existence) of reliable recovery data.

Although not all data matches, it still gives us an indication of what is going on. So, play with the parameters and use the map to get a rough idea of what is going on around the world. And remember that while differences in testing and definitions make it harder to simply compare numbers between countries, the same differences can inform us on different approaches / policies / challenges each country is facing. Ultimately, the numbers are more useful if seen like body weight readings. Sure, you can compare your number with everyone else’s, but it’s probably more useful to just compare it with the one you had yesterday, a week ago, or a month ago.

In this regard, the daily change in active cases should give you an idea of how today compares to the past few days or months, and the accumulation of cases show how much of an impact is made on the totals. These graphs are primarily useful to detect spikes and plateaus of cases along with some indication on government responses (more on this further down). They also provide a quick indication on the raltion of people contracting and recovering from covid-19.

The weekly death toll is a clear testament that something is going on this year we should be paying attention to. Beyond debates of how deadly the virus is, whether the patients were old and sickly and would die by the flu instead, or whether it even exists or not, here is a clear metric of the cost of life of the pandemic and how we handle it.

Lastly, the two ranking charts give a quick glance on the most impacted countries at the moment. Values are based on an average of the last five days to ensure recency, and are per capita to ensure large countries like the USA and India don't constantly dominate the charts.

Click on the map to select a country


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*Sources: Confirmed, deaths, recovered, active data: Johns Hopkins University. Downloaded
Test data: Our World in Data. Downloaded
Government response data: Oxford University. Downloaded at 19/09/2020.
Historical weekly death toll: Human Mortality Database. University of California, Berkeley (USA), and Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Germany). Downloaded at 18/10/2020.

Wherever you were, chances are that sometime during March or April you were told to stay home. Some governments merely outlined recommendations for the public, but most enforced rules to make citizens comply. Here you can see a rough visualization of government responses when it came to public movement restriction. For simplicity I am only using 4 broad categories of responses, but you can find more specific information by hovering over each country. The four categories range from no restrictions imposed (although recommendations are always made), to movement restrictions only in parts of the country, to restrictions for the whole country but only in particular times (curfew), to restrictions in the whole country all of the time (lockdown). Of course, many more government responses were put in place at the same time like banning gatherings, imposing social distancing rules, closing businesses etc, but the scope of this visualisation remains solely the movement restriction policies.

*Source: Oxford University. Downloaded at 19/09/2020

April 8, 2020, 9:53 a.m.


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