Infographic: Deaths per capita curve shows hope for region

2nd April 2020

By The Essential Staff

Infographic: Deaths per capita curve shows hope for region

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With most South American countries now several weeks into the pandemic’s contagion cycle, some preliminary conclusions can be drawn in terms of how the region’s countries are doing individually, and how the region overall compares to the Asian and European giants which are already at more advances stages of the fight with COVID-19.

Cumulative deaths per capita in select South American countries over the last week

In terms of cumulative cases per capita, the only clear outlier is Ecuador, where the news over the last few days have been grim. The country has the largest amount of Latin American nationals living in Spain, 422,000 in total according to figures from Ecuador’s Embassy in Madrid. This has made it unusually connected with the new epicenter of the pandemic in Western Europe, leading to a number of deaths per capita that is more than ten times bigger than neighboring Colombia and others in the region. Reports of dead bodies being left to rot in homes or burnt in the streets have shocked the world, with Guayaquil city now frequently compared to Wuhan in newspapers.

The logarithmic scale of the chart might hide how far behind Ecuador the rest of the continent is, but the difference is stark. While Ecuador registers almost 6 deaths per million, only Brazil and Peru have more than 1 per million, at 1.15 and 1.22 deaths respectively. Chile, still without a full national lockdown, has 0.89 deaths per million, followed by Argentina at 0.65. Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay (not pictured) and Colombia are also below the 1 death per million mark. Venezuela’s data is even lower, but there are doubts over its reliability.

Overall, deaths per million are seen as a much more reliable estimate that cases per million (with Venezuela as the possible exception), given that those dying in hospitals from respiratory complications are very likely to get tested for the virus in this context, while overall testing criteria among the wider population can vary significantly between countries, leading to an under-representation of cases.

Of course, the low amount of deaths doesn’t mean South America will end up better than Europe or the US. Instead, it’s a sign that the coronavirus pandemic is still in earlier days in the region. But the trend can still be evaluated by comparing South America’s deaths per capita with that of European or Asian countries at similar stages of the cycle.

Cumulative deaths per capita in selected countries (at comparable stage of the contagion cycle)

This second graph (this time in linear rather than logarithmic scale) compares Argentina and Brazil’s performance over the last week with that of some of the most widely discussed countries in the first world when their deaths per capita figures showed similar numbers a few weeks ago.

The obvious conclusion is that South America’s curve looks much flatter than Germany, Italy or Spain’s at a comparable point in time. This might mean that the lockdowns, border controls, social distancing measures and other preventative moves might be helping slow the rate of contagion in the region, although experts agree it is still to early to celebrate, especially given the very complex social aspects involved in South America.

Still, the region’s curve does not look as good as South Korea, which is widely being touted as one several examples to follow in terms of how Asian countries successfully dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A continued, months-long effort will be needed in order to make up for the superior preparedness and economic resourcefulness of East Asia if a massively deadly scenario like that of Europe or the US is to be avoided.

The Essential Staff

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