The coronavirus in Europe, a comparative analysis

The Wuhan coronavirus is waning in Europe. A month ago, new reported cases in Italy were running at about 3,500 per day, down from a peak of around 6,000. Now, they are averaging around 800.

A month ago, Italy was averaging around 500 reported deaths from the virus per day, down from a peak of more than 800. Now, the daily average is around 150.

Moreover, the number of reported active cases in Italy has fallen dramatically. At around 65,000, it is a little more than half of what it was at its peak a month ago.

By contrast, the number of reported active cases in the U.S. continues to rise.

Spain was hit even harder than Italy on a per capita basis. If anything, its numbers have improved even more dramatically. The average number of deaths per day is about 100, down from around 750 a month ago.

Germany’s numbers have always been comparatively good. France’s haven’t, but they are improving quickly.

The UK lags behind the other major European nations. However, new reported cases per day are starting to come in at under 3,000, about half of what they were averaging at the beginning of the month. Similarly, the daily death count is down from a peak of around 1,000 in mid April, and around 700 at the beginning of May, to around 500 now.

At this stage of the pandemic, Elaine He of Bloomberg thinks the time is ripe for a look at the effectiveness in curbing the virus of various paths European nations took for that purpose. She finds “little correlation between the severity of a nation’s restrictions and whether it managed to curb excess fatalities — a measure that looks at the overall number of deaths compared with normal trends.” (Emphasis added)

She states:

In Europe, roughly three groups of countries emerge in terms of fatalities. One group, including the U.K., the Netherlands and Spain, experienced extremely high excess mortality. Another, encompassing Sweden and Switzerland, suffered many more deaths than usual, but significantly less than the first group. Finally, there were countries where deaths remained within a normal range such as Greece and Germany.

Yet the data show that the relative strictness of a country’s containment measures had little bearing on its membership in any of the three groups above. While Germany had milder restrictions than Italy, it has been much more successful in containing the virus.

I don’t put much stock in cross-nation analyses like this. If it’s foolish to compare per capita cases and deaths in New York or Massachusetts with those in Nebraska and Tennessee — and I think it is — it’s also foolish to compare outcomes in Italy and Spain with outcomes in Finland and Hungary. (The comparisons John makes of Upper Midwest states make sense, as do comparisons of Scandinavian countries, notwithstanding some demographic differences among them.)

There are too many variables other than government policy. They include population density, level of contact with individuals from countries that experienced the pandemic early (especially China), age of the members of the population infected early, possibly hereditary characteristics, possibly climate, etc.

In addition, the strictness of a country’s lockdown will likely turn in part on the severity with which it’s hit by the virus. So the two variables — strictness and health results — may not be independent.

Elaine He also compares economic data from the lockdown period. As one would expect, “early data show that countries with harsher responses to Covid-19 also suffered more economically.”

I imagine that more comprehensive data will show the same thing, but we’ll see.

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