When you read that there have been over 67,000 American deaths and over a million reported infections, it seems shocking. It also feels hugely worrying that Russia has over 145,000 diagnosed sufferers.
Nevertheless, the fact is the US is a big country, with 328 million people. Russia is even larger, of course, but has a smaller population of 146 million. So although these figures are enormous, they don’t tell the whole story, especially given both nations have done huge amounts of tests: over 7 million in the US and more than 4.3 million across Russia.
By comparison, Ukraine has only tested 134,592 people, according to its own government’s data, and Brazil’s tally is under 400,000 on the Worldometer aggregator. This information is key to understanding the real spread of coronavirus in any given country – because, like everything, it’s all relative.
Let’s look at total tests per one million people in some selected countries.
You can see there is a massive range in the scale of testing. Smaller countries like Ireland and Qatar have cast their nets wide, while Russia, Spain, and Germany have managed the best of the larger states. India, Brazil, and Ukraine are struggling at the bottom, as is France, somewhat surprisingly.
United States 21,994
United Kingdom 17,771
Now it’s time to focus on reported cases, also per one million.
But bear in mind that even Germany, despite its high testing rate, may have only have caught around ten percent of its infections. That’s according to researchers at the University of Bonn.
Needless to say, if the Germans are off by such a large margin, the statistics from Ukraine, Brazil, and India need to be taken a serious pinch of salt. It’s noticeable that Qatar tops the list here, as well as with testing. Russia, which has the fourth-highest amount of tests in our sample, is close to last in terms of cases.
United States 3,619
United Kingdom 2,807
When it comes to deaths, Russia’s figures are almost the same as neighboring Belarus and Ukraine. This is interesting in the context of various people from US and UK media suggesting Russia’s declared totals may be deliberately inaccurate. They are ballpark for the region and, given political tensions, it’s very unlikely officials in Kiev would be colluding with Moscow to jointly hide casualties.
If deaths are counted per million of the population, Belgium tops the list – but Brussels also counts all cases with a hint of COVID-19 in its tallies.
It’s notable that France, with a low testing and case rate, is fifth-highest in this category – suggesting it’s Paris, not Moscow, which may be buckling under the strain of the pandemic.
The US is well behind both the UK and Italy, an interesting result considering the media narrative which generally keeps focusing on the country having the highest overall number of dead.
United Kingdom 423
United States 210
Naturally, statistics can be twisted in various ways to suit certain agendas, but there can hardly be any disagreement that per capita figures are the fairest measure in a pandemic.
By this metric, Russia – along with its post-Soviet neighbors – is doing a lot better than its counterparts in Western Europe.
At the same time, the US is not the outlier the raw headline data make it seem.