I have been exploring the ways through which a sample of countries (mainly the largest ones, European countries, and a smattering of others in Africa, Asia and Latin America) have fared through the COVID-19 pandemic, regularly plotting various correlations beteween different variables. The challenge, of course, is that the data are hugely unreliable, and reflect different definitions, different cultural practices, different abilities to test, and different political interests (amongst many other factors). For long, I have argued that data on deaths (including those over and above the norm) are more reliable than those on reported cases, and also that we should not use absolute figures, but rather ratios or percentages (such as deaths per 1 million people).
However, exploring ideas about risk today, I have discovered some fascinating insights. The Table below indicates the number of new cases reported per 100,000 total population on 24th July in the sample of countries I have been examining (based on data from thebaselab):In essence, let’s assume that if you are prepared to go out and about (perhaps even without a mask) in a country that had 1 new reported case per 100,000 yesterday, then you would feel happy with doing so in any country scoring below 1 in the Table. If you were happy to double the risk, this would include all countries below 2, and so on. Put another way, the risk in Brazil is about 41 times that in Germany; that in the USA is 21 times as high as in the UK. This emphasises once again the critical importance of not using absolute numbers, but rather focusing on ratios. Although I have written extensively about the appalling way in which the UK government has handled COVID-19, and I remain certain that Johnson and Cummings, as well as others close to them, are responsible for many more deaths than might reasonably have been expected, this figure for the UK is actually quite reassuring.
The challenge, of course, is that it is very difficult to interpret these figures because of the uncertainties associated with reported cases – and the data are only for a single day. Many more people will have COVID-19 without it being reported, and it seems clear that asymptomatic carriers can also infect people. Nevertheless, for those going on holiday in Europe this summer, it would appear that the risk of going to Italy is about one-twelfth that of going to Spain at the moment.
What risk level are you going to be happy with? And, wherever you go it is surely wise to wear a mask to protect others in case you are an asymptomatic carrier. Stay well!