Covid-19 - Navigate Obscurity Navigate Obscurity

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

  • During the first two years of the pandemic, Chile had a 50% increase in its total yearly death toll (from all causes) compared to the average of the previous five years.
  • The COVID-19 death toll for New Zealand in 2021 and 2022 was similar to its yearly death toll of suicide (you might need to check some death data for this).
  • USA had about 3 times more COVID-19 cases in the begining of 2022 compared to the same time last year (with about the same amount of tests carried out).
  • Australia had approximatelly 25% more total deaths (from all causes) in 2021 and 2022 compared to the average of the previous 5 years.
  • Russia, Cuba, and the US have approximately the same vaccination rate.
  • More people died from covid-19 in 2020, 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).

Cases numbers are provided for total cases since the beggining of the pandemic, and as new daily cases per 1 million people, as a 7-day average, to show the current prevelance of COVID-19. Either way, these are the confirmed cases, which 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 of 2020 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.

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 various bar charts should give you an idea of how cases or deaths compare to the past few days and months. These graphs are primarily useful to detect spikes and plateaus of the disease spread and impact. For most countries, on the bar charts showing cases you can also see maped the positive test rate which should help interpret rises and falls of cases. For instance, a spike in cases can be driven simply by doing more tests (New Zealand, November-December 2021, notice a flat positive rate line), or by getting more positive results in approximately the same amount of tests (USA, December 2021, notice a spike on positive rate line).

The weekly death toll is a clear testament that something is going on the past couple of years that 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 seven 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


Total cases
Total deaths
Fully vaccinated:
+ booster shot:
New (7 day average)
Cases per 1m:
Deaths per 1m:
Positive test rate:
No data available
No data available
Weekly death toll for all causes
No data available

*Sources: Confirmed, deaths, recovered, active data: Johns Hopkins University. Downloaded
Test & vaccination data: Our World in Data. Downloaded
Government response data: Oxford University. Downloaded at 10/01/2021.
Historical weekly death toll: Human Mortality Database. University of California, Berkeley (USA), and Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Germany). Downloaded at 07/04/2022.

Wherever you were, chances are that sometime during 2020 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 restrictions. 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 were typically 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 10/01/2021

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


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