So I was scrolling around the blogs, as I do, when this piece by Bryan Caplan caught my eye. In particular, something that he links to:
Americans entered the Covid pandemic in much poorer health than citizens of other developed countries. For instance, over 27,000 U.S Covid deaths list diabetes as a comorbidity, accounting for 16% of total Covid-related fatalities. But what if instead of having the highest diabetes rate among rich countries the U.S. had the same rate as Australia, with less than half the U.S. level?
Then this comment:
There’s an issue here, which is that the US doesn’t actually have a high COVID mortality rate. The US has a lot of COVID deaths because it has a lot of COVID cases, but the actual fatality rate is actually very low in the US. Here are some comparisons:
Italy – 11.51%
UK – 9.57%
Canada – 5.87%
France – 5.71%
Spain – 4.20%
Germany – 3.28%
Australia – 3.27%
USA – 2.87%
That is interesting. What do the numbers look like? If we just follow the zeitgeist it seems that COVID is an American problem (and Victorian problem too).
So I went to the COVID Worldometer and downloaded the data and had a play.
Okay – so some heroic assumptions:
- The data are clean.
- The data are consistent.
Both these assumptions are unlikely to hold. Data collection varies in quality across countries and definitions are likely to be very fluid (i.e. dying of COVID and dying with COVID etc.). But working with what we have got …
First thing, I calculated an infection rate (number of cases divided by population) and then a death rate (number of deaths divided by cases). Bear in mind the least dodgy number there is the population data.
I then plotted the data. (Australia, US and World average are pointed out). I dropped Yemen from the graph as it was a huge outlier on the y-axis (28.8%).
I then created an excess infection variable and an excess death variable. The excess infection variable is simply whether the infection rate in the particular country was above the world average infection rate (including Yemen) and the excess death variable is simply whether the death rate is above the world death rate (including Yemen).
I then classify countries into four categories:
- Excess Infection and Excess Death
- Excess Infection but No Excess Death
- No Excess Infection but Excess Death
- No Excess Infection and No Excess Death
Clearly the best place to be is the in 4. followed by 2. I suppose 3. is better than 1. But that boils down to an empirical question.
So now, who falls where?
In category 1, I find a lot of European countries. Including Sweden. Now I have not yet folded in economic performance, I am just looking at health outcomes. Right now my view is that countries that fall into this category have failed from a public health perspective and a public policy response perspective.
In category 2, I find countries like Chile, South Africa, Austria, Singapore, and Israel with excess infection rates but no excess death rates. This I classify as poor public health but good policy response. This group of countries includes the United States.
In category 3, I find countries like China, Afghanistan, Syria, Tanzania, Angola, Indonesia, and Germany with no excess infection rates but excess death rates. This I classify as good public health but poor policy response. In this group disproportionately more people died than were infected. This group of countries includes Australia. Bear in mind about 90% of Australian deaths come from Victoria.
In category 4 I find countries like Norway, Estonia, Taiwan, New Zealand, and South Korea.
Quick conclusion: Relative to the number of infections fewer people have died in the US than in Australia. So for all the talk about not letting us have a US style health system, it has performed relatively better than ours did. True, Australian base levels of health are higher than US levels. Relatively fewer people got infected here than in the US. (We can argue about why that happened in the comments – probably policy errors in themselves at the State level in the US). Once infected, however, it looks like the chances of survival was higher in the US.