Analysis by Keith Rankin.
The first chart starts with three small countries, two of which are affluent British territories. Other British territories also are on the chart: Channel Islands, Isle of Man, and the United Kingdom itself. And Ireland. The Cayman Islands, premier super yacht and tax haven, reminds us that Covid19 started in Europe as a disease of the rich – including the super-rich. And French Polynesia is back in the picture.
When we go to the second chart, which omits countries with less than 500,000 people, we immediately see Central Europe, plus the Low Countries. East Europe is there, too. But affluent Central Europe dominates. We note that, roughly, the more affluent the country, the lower are the deaths relative to cases. Note that Slovenia is at the top of the table, just ahead of Austria.
Looking at the ‘league table of deaths’, clearly East Europe dominates. Commonwealth Caribbean nations also feature markedly, as some have for the last few months.
When we drop the small countries, we see that just about every East European country features. But a number of affluent countries feature for deaths; Austria, USA, Belgium.
Note that Bulgaria is at the top of the table. Bulgaria not only tops the present covid wave; it also tops the death league for the entire pandemic, with at least 1 in 140 Bulgarians (0.7%) dying from Covid19, if not of Covid19.
Slovenia, a close neighbour of Austria, is particularly worrying. Before October, it was catching covid from the south, from its former Yugoslavian neighbours. But something new happened in October, and it’s akin to what previously happened in the French Caribbean (and other) territories.
There is a large middle class, highly mobile, and very immunised population in northwest Europe. Many are connected to the governance of the European Union – see my Europia essay from last year (‘Europia’ and the Spread of Covid19, 16 April 2020). They travel a lot as part of their work, they are well paid, and they have generous annual leave entitlements. Also, as early vaccinees, their immunity has waned substantially. These people have all the characteristics of symptomless covid superspreaders. It’s such a shame that the process of revaccination is being so badly bureaucratically botched (Booster row ‘sabotaging’ Germany’s Covid-19 vaccine campaign, Irish Times, 22 November 2021).
In the first week of October, a major European Union entourage attended a major event in Slovenia, the EU-Western Balkans summit. Then, in mid-October, the number of Covid19 cases in Slovenia shot up. We see that the official death toll followed, with the usual lag. It’s still too early to know the actual death toll arising from this October 2021 covid outbreak. However, we see that in the earlier outbreak last winter, the excess deaths closely matched the official deaths. Slovenia keeps good records. (We might also note that the sudden Austrian outbreak may in part be due to the proximity – cultural as well as geographical – of Slovenia to Austria.)
Bulgaria, poor Bulgaria. Note that the scale of the Bulgaria chart is twice that (up to 60 daily deaths per million of its people) of the Slovenian chart. Bulgaria has an older, vulnerable population. Its best and brightest are living and working in other parts of the European Union.
At least until June 2021, its statistics all match in timing, although clearly its official covid case and death data are clearly understated. In June 2021, and especially from August, excess deaths – from covid – have climbed substantially ahead of recorded covid deaths.
This pattern, of excess deaths leading rather than lagging, is clear in most central and eastern European countries. It means that Covid19 has been significantly worse than we realise, in that part of the world that can now be called ‘covid central’. This will be due to a mix of undiagnosed covid deaths, and post-covid deaths arising from the damage earlier rounds of covid have inflicted on surviving victim’s bodies. This latter problem shows up in the preponderance of 65-74 year-olds among the undiagnosed post-covid deaths in Europe in June to October 2021 (see Germany in this chart, and a large proportion of Austria’s excess deaths in this period are people in this age group).
Keith Rankin (keith at rankin dot nz), trained as an economic historian, is a retired lecturer in Economics and Statistics. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.