World Coronavirus: why the death rate by country says nothing...

Coronavirus: why the death rate by country says nothing about the spread of the disease

It is an exercise that often turns into a challenge. How can the balance sheets of the Covid-19 pandemic be compared between the countries most affected, even though not all of them measure them in the same way?

The testing capabilities are not the same everywhere, nor is the count of deaths outside the hospital. To further complicate the equation, the methods can evolve over time, as was the case in France, which did not start counting deaths in nursing homes until April 2.

In recent weeks, there have been increasing attempts to find an indicator for comparison. One of them consisted in reporting the number of victims in each country to its population.

With this method of calculation, the countries most affected are no longer necessarily those where the number of deaths reported is the highest. The 79,522 victims recorded on May 10 in the United States, reported to 328 million Americans, thus represented only a rate of 24 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

Very imperfect data

A figure much lower than that measured for France (39 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants), Italy (51), the United Kingdom (55) and Spain (57). Belgium, with more than 8,000 victims for its 11.5 million inhabitants, displays the sad world record of 77 victims per 100,000 inhabitants.

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But this data is extremely imperfect. Besides the fact that it is dependent on the way in which countries draw up their balance sheets, calculating the spread of the virus and mortality on the basis of the population of an entire country erases the virulence of certain outbreaks.

5 times higher mortality in New York State

In the case of the United States, if mortality seems very low compared to the total population, it is much higher if we look only at the most affected regions. New York State, the main focus in the country, has a mortality rate of 138 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, more than 5 times higher than the national ratio.

And the disparities are extremely strong with other states. Texas, the second most populous in the country, has a mortality rate of 3.9 victims per 100,000 inhabitants. In Florida, it is 8 per 100,000.

Within New York City itself, there are significant differences between the five counties that make it up. The Bronx is by far the hardest hit, with 222 deaths per 100,000 people. Next come Queens (196 per 100,000), Kings (173), Richmond (153). New York County, which includes Manhattan, has the lowest mortality rate, with 120 deaths per 100,000 population.

On this side of the Atlantic, several countries also display strong disparities between their regions with some particularly virulent foci. This is particularly the case for Spain and Italy.

Lombardy, in northern Italy, which was the first source of contamination in Europe, remains one of the areas with the highest mortality rate, with 149 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Further west, near the French border, Valle d’Aosta has nearly 111. This is more than double the national average. In comparison, the south of the Italian boot is fairly spared: Calabria and Basilicata have 4.7 and 4.8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants respectively, and neighboring Sicily 5.1.

On the Spanish side, three regions also display a particularly high mortality rate: Castile-La Mancha and the Madrid region with 131 and 137 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants since the start of the epidemic. Next comes the region of La Rioja, a little further north (nearly 110 deaths). Rates far removed from the national average of 57 deaths.

Maximum mortality in the Territoire de Belfort

In France, the departments that stand out are all in the two regions most affected by the epidemic: Grand-Est and Île-de-France. The Territoire de Belfort thus has the highest mortality rate in the territory, with 117 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, while this same ratio at the national level is 39 deaths per 100,000.

A figure which can be explained in particular, according to France Bleu, by the presence of a hospital structure whose geographical coverage greatly exceeds the borders of this department, bordering on Haut-Saône, Doubs and Haut-Rhin. This one, where the city of Mulhouse is particularly affected, is also the second French department with the highest mortality rate (94.6 per 100,000).

Next come Paris (73.5), Val-de-Marne (71.3) and the Vosges (69). Figures far removed from those found in the least affected departments. In addition to Réunion, which has recorded no deaths, four other departments have a mortality rate of less than 2 per 100,000 inhabitants: Guyana (0.3), Ariège (0.7), Lozère (1.3) and Tarn and Garonne (1.5).

The virus has spread significantly more evenly to other hard-hit countries, such as Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom. In the latter two cities, the capital was still more affected than the rest of the country: Brussels has a death rate of 113.7 deaths per 100,000, while London has a rate of 78.2 deaths.

In Germany, on the other hand, the Berlin region is relatively spared (4.7). It is in fact the highly populated Länder in the south, the first to have been affected by the virus, which still have the highest mortality rates: Bavaria (almost 17 deaths), followed by Baden-Württemberg and Saarland ( about 14.5). Also one of the first centers of contamination, North Rhine-Westphalia has maintained its death rate at 8.2 deaths, below the national average (9.2).


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