COVID-19: Who’s Doing Well, Who’s Doing Poorly?

COVID-19 is everywhere at this point. Which countries are handling it, which are not, and which are lying?

Looking at the COVID-19 numbers by country, there are several measures. The easy metric is by number of cases. By that standard, the US, Spain, Italy, and Germany are doing badly. The US is doing markedly worse than other nations. South Korea had many cases, but handled it exceptionally well through aggressive measures and mass testing, by all reports.

So who’s lying? China, according to the CIA. It is interesting to compare timeline graphs from China and South Korea for the number of new cases.

South Korea (pop. 51 million), which gets lots of good reports on its response (and reporting) to the pandemic by independent journalists, shows new cases peaking at 1062 cases in the beginning of March, and worked down to double digit cases into April. By contrast, in China (pop. 1.43 billion), the Chinese government numbers were criticized by institutions and people both outside and inside the country. Then China kicked out all the foreign journalists. Now all the numbers are fine. Allegedly.

What can we learn from how countries have handled this crisis?

  • The more shared information, the better.
  • Regular presentations of progress to the public from health officials help give a realistic picture of the situation on the ground, so people can respond accordingly.
  • Social isolation, while helpful in stopping the spread, needs to be paired up with a massive testing program to make sure the isolation is both targeted and can be ramped down in a verifiable way, with real numbers and targets.

Countries should respond more like South Korea, and less like Italy. And painting a false picture like China helps no one.

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