Analysis by Keith Rankin.
This week’s charts show three small economically prosperous European countries with similar populations; Belgium has 11.6 million people, Switzerland 8.6 million, and Sweden has 10.1 million.
Belgium has the third highest per capita death toll in the world from Covid-19; only Peru and little San Marino have had more deaths.
Belgium got on top of its Covid19 epidemic by the end of May, at least in a way that Sweden did not. Daily known cases minimised in June at around 600 per 100 million, which would be equivalent to 30 cases per day in New Zealand. But, like much of Europe, exponential growth of cases recommenced in July, paused in August, and has surged unabated over September and October. A surge in death rates followed in September and October. Belgium is breaking new records for its daily cases – now officially ten times higher than in April; and deaths look like they will exceed April’s record highs in November. At present rates, over one percent of Belgium’s entire population is being infected each week; equivalent to 50,000 new cases of Covid19 in New Zealand in a single week.
In Switzerland, the case profile is similar to that of Belgium; though deaths remain markedly less. Switzerland’s first exponential outbreak preceded Belgium’s, showing the importance of the skifields (or at least the skifields’ associated bars and restaurants) as the initial Covid19 breeding ground in Europe. Also, Switzerland seemed to have got on top of its caseload more quickly than Belgium.
However, Switzerland has shown unmitigated exponential growth of cases since the beginning of June. Further, this has accelerated markedly in October. Switzerland is one of the world’s richest countries, and it plays a very important role in the global Covid19 story. It is one of the key European source countries, it is the home of the World Health Organisation, it has the most rapid acceleration of Covid19 cases over the last few weeks, and may overtake Belgium next month for the number of daily diagnosed cases per million of population. In its favour, Switzerland’s death rate is still much lower than Belgium’s, suggesting that Switzerland has relatively fewer undiagnosed cases.
Switzerland falls under the radar because it is a small country. It deserves much more attention than it gets. Covid19 continues to be a disease of privilege.
Finally, Sweden is remarkable because of its complete inability to check the spread of Covid19 during Europe’s first wave (which was the world’s second wave). It took Sweden six months to get its diagnosed cases down to the levels of Australia’s August peak. And now it’s on an exponential growth path that has persisted for two months, and shows signs of accelerating. While Sweden was a late starter in Europe’s second wave, it may also be – once again – a late finisher.
The people of Asian countries must be quite bemused by the inability of affluent westerners to respond to the Covid19 pandemic, by their propensity to address the pandemic by pretending it was not happening. It’s not the only problem that Europeans address in that way.
At least, in the second half of 2020, European countries are making some effort to find out through testing just how prevalent Covid19 is; a marked contrast to the policies of wilful ignorance that was prevalent earlier in the year. I am concerned, however, that the many undiagnosed victims of Covid19 will struggle to get the help they may need in future, given the propensity of governments in the west to prioritise money over people, and given that, for some, Covid19 is a chronic condition.