By Hugh Holland
A meaningful evaluation of how well governments are managing the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be completed until the virus is under control in most countries. That is because the apparent outcome depends on where each country is on the curve. But some significant patterns are emerging. Here is a look at the data as of noon on May 5 and some of the factors that influence the numbers in G7 (denoted with **) and similar industrialized economies. The factors that shape the COVID-19 curve are a unique mix in each country. Most people would rank a low COVID-19 death rate as the most desirable outcome.
Existential factors (less affected by current management efforts)
• Median age and wealth – Deaths rates do not correlate well with median age and wealth.
• Population density – Physical distancing is more difficult in Asia, Europe, and in big cities.
• The nature of borders and trading patterns – European Union countries have open borders. Japan and South Korea are essentially island nations and their geography enables strict border control. Controlling the busy 6,000 km border between Canada and the USA is more difficult than island nations but less difficult than the 27 EU countries.
• The nature of travel patterns – People in wealthier industrialized G7 countries (that help support less-developed countries) travel more. Gateway cities, like London, New York, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver are likely to be among the first affected.
• Culture – Japan’s long-standing tradition of strict hygiene and bowing instead of hand shaking is an advantage. Distrust of government is a disadvantage for some countries.
Management factors (more affected by current management efforts)
• Preparedness – Experts and supplies in place. Displaced in most countries by short-term priorities.
• Clear and consistent direction – Political leaders supporting scientific experts.
• Timing – The timing of effective mitigation relative to the outset is critical. South Korea was among the quickest to act on COVID-19.
• Testing – Testing reveals asymptomatic cases. Switzerland’s testing rate is 23 times Japan and their death rate is 52 times Japan. Testing should be helpful in directing mitigation strategies.
• Accuracy of reporting – While more than half of COVID-19 deaths in Europe and Canada have been in long-term care homes, these deaths have not been reported consistently in all countries. Many developing countries lack the ability to collect accurate data.
• Isolation – Physical distancing is proving to be one of the most effective albeit disruptive strategies.
• Herd immunity – So far, Sweden’s strategy of herd immunity (allowing large numbers to acquire some immunity by contracting mild cases of the virus) has not been a success story.
• Many of these same factors will also determine the success of each country and the world in actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.
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