How do you measure success in a pandemic?

I’m writing this as someone who lives in the most locked down city on Earth – Melbourne. We suffered through the first wave of Covid-19 and lost 820 people to the virus, but that death toll could have been much, much worse; during the first wave in Italy, 35,142(1) Italians lost their lives.

Returning to the first wave of Covid-19 in Melbourne, we eliminated the virus and kept it from spreading to the rest of Victoria and the other states by putting ourselves into a VERY strict lockdown. That lockdown included a curfew and a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around Melbourne. It worked. In fact, the same restrictions continued to eliminate the virus from Victoria until NSW, with the tacit approval of the Federal government, decided that we all had to ‘live with Covid’. Thanks to our long border with NSW, we could no longer keep the virus out.

The other States and territories – Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the ACT – continued to keep Delta out until Omicron came along. Western Australia is now the only state still trying to keep Omicron out. Across the ditch, our New Zealand cousins have not given up the fight against Covid-19 either. The battle may have changed from elimination to a fighting retreat, but it continues. The battle also continues in many of the countries of Asia, but we hear so very little about them.

I created the following spreadsheet from data published by https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries The website provides covid-19 related information about every nation on Earth.

That’s a lot of data and the forest tends to get lost in the trees so I created a subset(2) of the data to show the difference between the Asian approach to Covid-19 and that of most Western countries. I’ve included Australia and New Zealand as part of Asia, because that is what we are.

In the screenshot below, the data is sorted by total deaths:

Iceland did the best with just 46 deaths while the USA did the worst with 904,038 deaths, but Iceland has a very small population while the USA has a very large one. In the next screenshot, I sorted the data according to deaths per million in order to account for differences in population size:

Iceland appears on the top of the list, again, because something is screwy with the ‘per million’ figure. I suspect a human error resulted in the decimal point being left off, but I’m too lazy to look up the population of Iceland to be sure.

Setting Iceland aside, the data suddenly reveals two surprises:

  1. China does the best with just 3 deaths per million. [Remember that China has a population of roughly 1.4 billion people]
  2. Hungary does the worst with 4,285 deaths per million.

Hungary is the country of my birth. It’s a small country with a small population [roughly 9.6 million]. That population is now smaller by 41,229 people. I’m glad my parents are no longer alive to see what has happened to their country. That said, the USA and the UK have the dubious honour of having the second and third worst results after Hungary.

So how do you measure success in a pandemic? Is it money saved? Or lives?

In a recent video, Dr John expressed disbelief that China would continue to eliminate the virus ‘in the age of Omicron’. In the comments, all sorts of theories were raised, most denigrating China’s strategy as futile, draconian and only possible in such a tightly regulated nation. The unspoken assumption was that no sane person would want to live like that.

I’m not an apologist for China because I don’t think it needs one. Yes, the Chinese government probably is guilty of human rights violations, but people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The murder of George Floyd in the US brought the plight of Black America into sharp focus. When police feel they can kill Black Americans without fear of consequences, that’s a human rights violation. When children can be murdered at school because there is no gun control, that’s a human rights violation.

Here in Australia, the media shone a spotlight on our asylum seekers recently, but only because a famous tennis star was locked up with them for a very short time. What we’ve done to asylum seekers in the name of ‘stopping the boats’ is also a human rights violation. Would they be treated the same way if they were white and came from a European country?

But our human rights violations aren’t restricted to asylum seekers. The ‘deaths in custody’ of hundreds of First Nations Australians doesn’t rate a mention unless there’s some political twist to the story. That’s an ongoing human rights violation, yet no one wants to haul Australia off before the Court of International Justice in The Hague. Is it because we belong to ‘us’ and everyone else is ‘them’?

I’m sure China’s strategy of elimination isn’t motivated by pure altruism, but I suspect the Chinese government has worked out that its economy depends on the health of the populace. Dead people can’t manufacture anything. Dead people can’t buy anything either. Maybe that’s a lesson all neo-liberal governments need to learn.

Vaccines are great but they’re not a silver bullet that will save us from the inconvenience of old fashioned contagion control. To save lives, we have to have both. To save our economies, we have to save lives first.

Meeks

(1) Finding the number of total deaths in the first wave [for Italy] was surprisingly hard, or perhaps I didn’t search for the right terms. In the end, I had to calculate the number of death [for Italy] from a graph put out by the WHO:

https://covid19.who.int/region/euro/country/it

If you go to that graph and hover your mouse over each column, you can see the total deaths for that period. I copied the raw numbers into the spreadsheet below so I could get a total just for the first wave in Italy:

(2) The data I used for the comparison between Asian and Western Covid-19 results is detailed below:

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

40 responses to “How do you measure success in a pandemic?

  • D. Wallace Peach

    I think the Iceland thing is because their population is under a million… so, if they had a million people, this is what the number would be.

    In the US, we’re going for a million dead, because, you know, the US has to be number one in everything. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Aaaah! That makes sense. I had no idea the pop. of Iceland was so small.

      -sigh- I’d like to say something comforting, but I can’t. Don’t you dare get sick! Seriously. Stay well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • D. Wallace Peach

        We’re doing our best. Omicron 2 is supposed to be even more virulent than Omicron, but also even less deadly. It’s probably a matter of time, but we’re still being careful. Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Agreed. We call Omicron 2 B2 – like Bananas in Pyjamas 🙂 I think Moderna is supposed to be bringing out an Omicron specific vaccine some time this year, but who knows? B1 has been pretty devastating here in Australia. Nothing like what’s happened overseas, but bad by what we’re used to. Fingers crossed B2 is a LOT less deadly. 😦

          Liked by 1 person

  • Matthew Wright

    Interesting figures – and NZ second to Iceland. That’s about to change, though, we’re heading into an Omicron wave. For me, at least, the mood is something like deja vu – the only certainty being that of pending dislocation, much like early 2020, including the dire predictions for the economy. But this time the people are weary of restrictions. The PM has plummeted in the popularity ratings. I think we’ll get through it OK but the social impact will be significant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      I’m sorry to hear that, Matthew. I know Omicron is very infectious, but the messaging about it has been wildly inaccurate as well. It’s not ‘mild’ it’s just milder than Delta. That relative clause was conveniently left off when certain leaders here [and overseas] decided to open up. I understand that everyone’s tired of Covid and restrictions, but wishing Covid gone won’t make it so. 😦
      Please take care.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Matthew Wright

        Thanks! The weariness people show just now worries me. Omicron is not a mild disease of itself. I know people in Melbourne who’ve had it, and it’s nasty. I found a paper recently comparing Covid to the 1889-91 ‘Russian flu’, now suspected to be a coronavirus, which – on the basis of what happened in the early 1890s – suggests that Covid will be a direct problem for another 2-3 years at least. All I can see happening is opposition parties offering to unlock everything, winning elections on that basis, and Covid then ripping though populations. The blue-suited corporate goon we’ve got running the main opposition here is doing just that – and Ardern’s popularity has been nose-diving on the back of it. Ouch.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          -sigh- This ties in with what I wrote about history and the chances of a new Enlightenment. The Conservatives here in Oz have been flirting with letting the pandemic rip since the very beginning. The only thing that stopped them was a) the death toll overseas and b) the power of the States to say ‘no’. Thank god for Federation!
          With Omicron the Conservatives said “Yay!” and opened everything up. Now they’re paying the price as Labor gains in the polls, but it’s too late to put the genie back in its bottle.
          Pandemic fatigue is being driven by the idea that only dispensable people – the old, the sick, the disabled – will die, so why should everyone else suffer?
          As a result, we’re getting conflict instead of co-operation.
          I hope Ardern can hold on long enough to save NZ from the worst of the pandemic coz you guys ain’t seen nothing yet. 😦

          Like

  • Widdershins

    Some great discussions in the comments. 🙂
    I suppose the only measurement of success in this case is if we can look back at these times in a hundred years.
    I was going to continue that last sentence, but it works well finishing where it is … not good grammar, but we’re writers, we can bastardise anything if we so choose! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  • Candy+Korman

    The USA stats astonish me every time I see them BECAUSE it’s such a large country and there were so many missed opportunities to learn from the regions/states that were hit first. Back in March, April and May of 2020 New York State (it’s a large state) was hit hard—primarily in New York City. I remember watching the death numbers and they often topped 800 a day. On the West Coast it was also hitting parts of California very hard. (We’d later learn that the strain on the east coast was the same as the virus in Italy and that west coast may have been infected with the strain from China.) This jives with international travel patterns.

    Here in New York City we locked down. Not necessarily fast enough, but New Yorkers were remarkably cooperative. Some New York industries did fine (finance) but everything in hospitality and entertainment suffered cruelly… but still we locked down, masked up, and people were positively gleeful when the vaccines became available.

    Why the rest of the country didn’t follow that model is the thing that is killing me—and still infecting and killing—people in the regions where the vaccines, tests, and even masks are political not medical/public health choices.

    SIGH… Right now, I’m embarrassed by my country’s inability to follow the science, even as it ebbs and flows with times that are easier and times when we must be careful. Why can’t Texas learn from New York? Because some people can only learn from their own experiences. I think we should all look at the most successful pandemic policies and take success seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      -hugs- Thanks Candy. This: ‘Because some people can only learn from their own experiences.’ This meshes perfectly with something I read yesterday about trust. When you boil it right down, everything in our lives hinges on trust, not just in our interpersonal relationships, but in how society actually works. We trust that the supermarkets will always have food. We trust that the service station will always have petrol. We trust that when we get sick, our hospitals will cure us, and we trust that our legal system will protect us. But all those trusts funnel upwards to government.
      We’re all a bit cynical when it comes to politics, but when you absolutely believe that politicians are out to ‘get you’?
      When that happens the only people you can trust are those in your immediate circle that you know personally, and yourself.
      If people you don’t trust tell you that the virus will kill you, but no one you know has died or even become seriously ill, what do you do? Do you give up what you see as your personal ‘freedoms’ by trusting politicians and the science? Or do you trust your own experience?
      America became great because it embraced the science, more than any other country on Earth. Now there’s a disconnect between the science that made all those gadgets possible, and the science that tells you human beings are just animals. Not special. Not created in the likeness of ‘god’. Just another species.
      I can see the connections, I just can’t see how to fix things. 😦

      Like

  • DawnGillDesigns

    it’s interesting that countries are classifying C19 deaths differently. Our government is using the definition that anyone dying within 28 days of testing positive for C19 as a C19. At the outset I think (I too am too busy to be bothered to double check) it was anyone within 3 months, and also for a period it was any death – even if hit by a bus – that would count. I don’t think that those have been revisited and the data re-evaluated. And of course, we are constantly reminded that over the past 12 months we in the UK have been encouraged to test twice weekly with lateral flow tests. I haven’t because I don’t mix enough to warrant the waste, but many people do test this often. And of course, each time you test you should report the result, but it’s a bit of a hassle, so most people only report their positive test results, and the occasional negative. I love data, but it’s only ever as good as the person entering it, and here, that was often the general public.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      That’s interesting about the 28 day time limit. As I understand it, people who became seriously ill with Delta could spend a very long time in ICU or on a ventilator, I’m assuming past the point of 28 days so aren’t their deaths being counted any more?
      One thing I have to hand your government, giving out lateral flow tests to everyone for free is the best thing they’ve ever done. Here in Australia, the conservative govt is so stingy, it’s only giving ‘the vulnerable’ free RATs [rapid antigen tests]. Everyone else has to fend for themselves and there’s such a shortage that price gouging is common.
      We have an app for RAT results too, but I suspect we do much the same as people in the UK. As a result – garbage in, garbage out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • DawnGillDesigns

        I’m confident any deaths post the 28 days are counted, just not in the ‘daily death stats’ released by the gov’mnt. I started out subscribing to all the information and reading it religiously, but now, I’m just reading the stuff that’s directly relevant to me and what I need to do because it’s overwhelming otherwise.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Remembering Lives

    My two youngsters both finished their degrees through the pandemic. I think the current epidemic of misinformation is at least as harming to children as the isolation etc due to the pandemic. I am fed up with the way this is being rewritten. Forget almost a million death in the US tens of thousands in the UK. Nobody is being held to account for that. Instead the subject has been changed to the trials and tribulations of lockdown.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Grats to your Offspring – that’s a great result! And I agree. Almost from the start,the media has shown countless stories of people boo hooing about the lockdowns but next to nothing about those /suffering/ from the virus, be they victims or the family of victims. I truly don’t understand the messaging.

      Like

  • Jacqui Murray

    Easy question–lives! But I do worry about what the cure is costing children. That data is just coming out and it’s frightening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Kids growing up through this pandemic will not be the same as kids prior to the pandemic. That’s inevitable. It’s how I imagine kids were who spent their formative years during a war. I think the fear and isolation will change them forever.
      In education, those who don’t have access to technology will struggle with online learning but…those who do have access to technology may end up learning faster/better than they would in a classroom situation. Whatever politicians say – overcrowded classrooms where the teacher is essentially childminding instead of teaching are /not/ the optimal environment for kids to learn. Good quality online teaching is the closest we can approximate to one-on-one teaching/learning. That’s why some kids are thriving. Sadly that’s the ideal and the reality is much poorer.
      I’ve taught in high school, I’ve taught one-on-one, and I’ve taught adults where there were no more than five or six in the ‘class’. Imho, the closer we get the teacher/student ratio to one-on-one the more successful the outcome.
      Socialization however, is another question entirely. :/
      It’s a mess however we look at it.

      Liked by 2 people

  • Yvonne Hertzberger

    Very interesting. For a western country it seems Canada isn’t doing to badly. I wonder about come figures, though, due to levels of reporting, especially for China.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Reporting and testing are the two big unknowns, but not just for China. I remember when the pandemic first began, the UK did not count deaths in aged care facilities. Still don’t know how that was justified. Then there’s the problem of the anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. Even if they did get sick I doubt they’d get tested unless they ended up in hospital.
      And then there’s ‘strategy’. Here in Australia, we had most of our deaths during the first and second wave, then very few until Delta and Omicron because we were into elimination. I imagine that China had the same strategy. Are they hiding infection numbers now? Possibly, but if the hospitals are overflowing and Covid patients are languishing in ambulances because there is no room in those hospitals, that would be kind of hard to hide, even in China.
      Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, the ‘laissez faire’ attitude in the West has cost a hell of a lot of lives. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  • Remembering Lives

    I am currently laid up with Covid. We all got, what I take, is Omicron. I am glad to see you are still trying to present the facts. I have been disappointed to see how quickly the early horrors of the pandemic have been forgotten. The pandemic in the UK and the US was badly mismanaged but all many seem to do now is recount the difficulties of lockdown, rather than remembering the suffering and deaths of tens of thousands of people when Covid first took hold.
    I feel pretty rough right now but I am sure it is nothing like as bad as what the world first experienced with the early strains of Covid, which we were largely protected from here in Australia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Damn! I’m so sorry to hear that you caught it. Fingers crossed that you get over it quickly. The messaging has been deceptive from the start. Omicron isn’t mild any more than the original strain was mild, it’s just that both of them are mildER than Delta, which was very nasty indeed.
      Both the Offspring and I have compromised immune systems though for different reasons. The Offspring has had the booster but I’m not due until the end of Feb so the freedom I hoped for hasn’t eventuated.
      If you can manage it, get out into the sun a bit for that vitamin D, and if you have any Betadine on hand, paint some on your skin every day. They /may/ help you get over the virus a bit faster.
      -hugs-

      Like

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    Hey – Hungarian background here, too.

    FWIW, Mexico’s statistics are completely unreliable. My sister estimates they’ve had as many deaths as the States, with about a third the population. They’ve never closed anything – they depend on tourist dollars and decided people can just come and go as long as they bring money.

    Sad to say, that is home. I can’t go there until it’s much better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      You have a Hungarian background too? lol More info. please!
      I did look at the Mexican stats and thought them high. How awful to think they could be just the tip of the iceberg.
      Are you family there ok?

      Like

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        A number of family members have had covid; most are vaccinated by going abroad to do it. My brother in law’s older brother died of it. I’m watching them, knowing the statistics for long covid are estimated from 10-30%. They haven’t really understood the ME/CFS I live with – I hope they don’t have to live with it, too. It’s a mess. The president is a narcissist who refuses to believe (I think he’s had it at least once), wants to be a dictator, lies continuously about everything, knows how to promise but not how to deliver… The usual. If anything, they’ll end up acquiring herd immunity the hard way, like many countries. Mexicans in general are among the nicest people on the planet.

        I don’t know how a country makes the transition from that model to something better.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Ugh. Fingers crossed that no one else becomes a victim of Covid. 😦
          I wonder if the national character is part of the reason egotists are able to exploit the situation? Good people find it hard to believe that others are not like them.
          I hope that basic goodness never changes, but I can’t see how the egotists can be kept from power either.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

            Education has lagged in Latin America – the population is ripe for exploitation – people are barely surviving in so many places that they can’t expend time, money, and effort to bettering themselves – and the state makes it almost impossible. The middle class is relatively small, and the rich people like it that way.

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            ‘The middle class is relatively small, and the rich people like it that way.’ 😦 That seems to be the way a lot of Western societies are going, not just in Latin America. Doesn’t bode well for the future. 😦

            Liked by 3 people

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        My paternal grandparents were both born in Hungary (or maybe grandma’s parents were). They met in the Detroit area, reared eight children. The boys all went to college – engineer, lawyers, dentist. Their youngest, my aunt Mary Lou, is only five years older than I am, and is an award-winning journalist. The American Dream – my dad finished college on the GI BIll after the war. Family names: Losoncy, Mezaros. Daddy was the only on who spoke some Hungarian – he was sent to help his grandparents on the farm in the summers. He never taught us any – and lived out his life as the best Mexican gentleman you could imagine.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Wow…so your family went from Hungary to the US while mine went from Hungary to Australia. About as far as you could get from Hungary in both instances. But then how did your immediate family get to Mexico??

          Like

  • daleleelife101.blog

    I think there are many way to measure success or lack thereof in a pandemic but certainly lives lost is an underpinning consideration. Another way for Australia, will be how people vote in the upcoming Federal election.

    Liked by 1 person

Don't be shy!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: