The COVID19 pandemic is not yet over but with vaccinations starting to ramp up worldwide, an end may be in sight. At that point, an in-depth comparison of countries is likely to take place. To get ahead of that debate with the respect to the UK, I have been comparing the UK’s COVID19 statistics with a number of countries to see how much of an outlier the UK has been.
I plan to update this post every month. You can follow me on Twitter to see when I have made updates or subscribe to my newsletter (subscription form can be found on the right hand of your screen by scrolling down or at the end of this article).
This post uses an updated format of the available data. You can find my previous format here which has data as of end of February 2021.
Where I got the data
Our World in Data (OWID) have produced this fantastic resource for tracking global COVID19 data. There is an interactive chart facility that reproduces many of the charts I show in this post and at the bottom of that chart is a DOWNLOAD option to get the data in a CSV file.
What comparisons have I made?
For ease of visual appearance, each chart compares the UK with 4 other countries. The full list of comparison groups are:-
- Immediate Neighbours – Ireland, France, Belgium & The Netherlands
- Central Europe – Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg
- Scandinavia – Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland
- Eastern Europe – Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary
- Mediterranean – Portugal, Spain, Italy, Malta
- 5 Eyes (or Anglosphere) – USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand
- Far East – Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan
- South America – Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador
If you would like me to show other comparison groups, please let me know.
In each comparison group, 7 charts are shown comparing Deaths, Excess Mortality, Cases, Tests, CFR, Positivity & Vaccinations. All data is presented per capita with Cases, Tests & Vaccinations per thousand population and Deaths & Excess Mortality per million inhabitants. In all charts I have set the vertical scale to be about twice the UK peak so as to provide a common visual reference.
The following definitions should be noted.
- Tests – these are either number of people tested for COVID19 or number of tests processed for COVID19. Which definition is used varies between countries.
- Cases – these are the number of tests for COVID19 that give a positive result. It is assumed that all countries use the same type of test with the same degree of accuracy.
- Deaths – these are deaths where COVID19 is recorded on the death certificate. In theory all countries are supposed to use the same process but in practice there will be some differences in the way the process is done.
- Excess Mortality – these are deaths from all causes over and above a baseline or expected number of deaths. The baseline in the UK is the average of the 5 years 2015 to 2019 by week and I understand the same calculation has been used in all other countries. Not all countries provide the necessary data to do this calculation and such countries will show up as having zero excess mortality. Note that excess mortality can be negative if total deaths are less than the baseline.
- Positivity – % of Tests resulting in a Case. Due to low testing at the start of the pandemic, I do not show this data for February to June 2020.
- Case Fatality Rate (CFR) – % of Cases resulting in Death. Due to low testing at the start of the pandemic, I do not display data for February to April 2020. That does not mean the data for May onwards is immediately OK, just that it’s more likely to be better due to higher testing.
- Vaccinations – these are total number vaccinations against COVID19 delivered. Some people will have had two jabs so number of people vaccinated is less.
Unfortunately there are differences between countries in terms of the definitions they use for the above measures. For this reason, I’ve decided that any nation that is within a factor of 2 of the UK’s figures will be regarded as to all intents & purposes the same as the UK. Those countries that differ from the UK by more than a factor of 2 will be highlighted.
1 – UK v Immediate Neighbours
The charts below compare the UK (bars) with the following 4 countries (lines); Ireland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands.
When looking at the data overall since the start of the pandemic, all 5 countries are essentially the same with any difference a matter of degree rather than magnitude with one notable exception. When one looks at the last 3 months, the UK notably differs.
- Testing – Up till December, all 5 countries are doing broadly the same amount of testing. Since the start of the year, the UK has accelerated whilst the other 4 nations have stagnated.
- Cases – It is clear all 5 are having worst 2nd waves but are following different timings. Belgium peaked in October, UK & Ireland in January, France & Netherlands spread out between October & April.
- Deaths – Cumulative deaths are broadly within the same order of magnitude. Over last 3 months, all 4 have been higher than the UK with France & Belgium most affected.
- Excess Mortality – Ireland stands out with excess mortality that is indistinguishable from normal fluctuations whereas the other 3 nations are similar to the UK. Over last 3 months the UK has seen negative excess mortality.
- Positivity – Netherlands stand out over the last 3 months which is most probably due to low levels of testing. The UK’s low figure could be the result of much higher levels of testing which by definition must be including proportionally more non-infected people.
- CFR – Ireland, Belgium & France for the last 3 months is three times that of the Netherlands & UK. One must be careful drawing conclusions from such an observation as there can be many reasons for such differences.
- Vaccinations – The UK has vaccinated more people but the other 4 nations are now catching up with higher rates in June than the UK. I have noticed with other countries that got a head start on vaccinations (e.g. Israel) that the rate does drop once a majority of people have been vaccinated so it would not surprise me to see the other 4 nations drop back in the next month or two.
Since this is the first time I have presented excess mortality statistics in this post, I want to comment further on Ireland’s figure. Excess mortality is calculated as the difference between all deaths and an expected number of deaths or baseline. The most common baseline used in the average of the 5 years 2015 to 2019 which precede the pandemic. It should be obvious from such a crude measure that excess mortality will fluctuate within a range in non-pandemic years and based on what I have seen, anything within +/-50 deaths per million per month will have been seen before and cannot be regarded as unusual. Even a figure within +/-100 should not be thought of as exceptional.
So to see Ireland never exceed this threshold at all during the pandemic really surprises me. It’s even more surprising when you see the total number of COVID19 deaths per million of 1,000 is the same as the Netherlands yet the Dutch excess mortality is the same as the UK and other 3 nations. In the case of the Netherlands I have seen it stated somewhere that the Dutch COVID19 number only counts deaths in hospitals which differs from the UK and given that the Dutch had twice as many cases as Ireland, the excess mortality may be capturing the extra COVID19 deaths. But still in the UK, France & Belgium, around half of the COVID19 deaths result in excess mortality but in Ireland it’s less than 10%. I would love to know why this is.
2 – UK v Central Europe
The charts below compare the UK (bars) with the following 4 countries (lines); Germany, Switzerland, Austria & Luxembourg.
As for Immediate Neighbours, the similarities are more striking than the differences. Saying that, some differences are worth pointing out.
- Testing – In the beginning, Germany was well ahead of other countries but now Switzerland & Germany are well behind the other nations.
- Cases – Lowest in Germany which may be connected with lower testing but otherwise broadly the same across all nations for the whole pandemic & the last 3 months.
- Deaths – Cumulative deaths are highest in UK and lowest in Germany but otherwise broadly the same across all nations for the whole pandemic. Over the last 3 months, the UK has been the lowest.
- Excess Mortality – Germany is less than half that seen for the other 4 nations over the whole pandemic. For last 3 months, the UK has been lower than the other 4 nations.
- Positivity – Over last 3 months, UK & Austria notably lower than the other 3 nations. Levels of testing appear to explain this.
- CFR – Over last 3 months, UK & Switzerland have had the lowest levels.
- Vaccinations – Again the UK has vaccinated the most but the other 4 nations overtook the UK in June.
Up to the recent winter, Germany was the nation standing out with lower figures all round. However the last 4 months or so has seen higher number of COVID19 deaths which has closed the gap somewhat.
3 – UK v Scandinavia
The charts below compare the UK (bars) with the following 4 countries (lines); Denmark, Norway, Sweden & Iceland. I realise that some people would replace Iceland with Finland but for me, Finland is better compared with the 3 Baltic states.
As will be seen, for the most part Norway & Iceland behave differently to Sweden & Denmark.
- Testing – Denmark has done double what the UK has done. The other 3 nations were tracking the UK but have tailed off since Christmas and have now only done a 1/3 of the UK.
- Cases – Denmark & Sweden have broadly tracked the UK whilst Norway & Iceland are much lower.
- Deaths – Sweden is similar to the UK whilst the other 3 nations are notably lower.
- Excess Mortality – All 4 nations are much lower than the UK. In the case of Sweden, the difference is less dramatic.
- Positivity – Sweden is much higher than the UK as in Norway whilst Iceland & Denmark are similar.
- CFR – The UK is similar to the other 3 nations over the last 3 months but during winter, the UK was higher.
- Vaccinations – Again the other 4 nations vaccinated more in June.
What makes this an interesting comparison for the UK is that many in the UK would stereotype Scandinavians as being in better health than the UK which might explain the lower deaths rates. OWID provide a number of health related statistics for each nations and what is surprising to me is that this is not necessarily the case. The UK has higher rates of smoking but lower rates of Diabetes.
For me the most notable difference between the UK and these 4 nations is the population density of the UK.
4 – UK v Eastern Europe
The charts below compare the UK (bars) with the following 4 countries (lines); Poland, Czechia, Slovakia & Hungary. They are also known as the Visigrad 4.
Over the whole pandemic, the UK & the Visigrad4 show similar numbers but the timing has been radically different.
- Testing – Slovakia rapidly expanded its testing in December and massively exceeds the UK. Czechia matched the UK whilst Poland & Hungary were much lower.
- Cases – All 4 escaped the 1st wave but have had a bad second wave and now match the UK with Czechia nearly twice as bad.
- Deaths – Very few in the 1st wave but all much higher than the UK in the 2nd wave.
- Excess Mortality – Higher than the UK, almost double in some cases. Note how excess deaths almost entirely explained by COVID19 in the 4 nations unlike UK.
- Positivity – Through the roof in the last 3 months in Poland & Hungary. Czechia & Slovakia similar to UK. Again testing levels appear to explain this.
- CFR – Czechia lower than the UK whilst Poland, Hungary & Slovakia are worse.
- Vaccinations – Hungary broke with the EU and bought the Russian sputnik vaccine as well hence why their rates match the UK..
All in all, the Visigrad 4 suggests that nations who largely escaped the 1st wave are likely to have a bad 2nd wave whilst nations with a bad 1st wave have a better 2nd wave. That would point to the remorseless nature of this disease, you can only dodge for so long and unless you can shut yourself off like New Zealand, until vaccinations can be rolled out, governments will face uneviable choices till then.
5 – UK v Mediterranean (West)
The charts below compare the UK (bars) with the following 4 countries (lines); Portugal, Spain, Italy & Malta. Yes I know Portugal is technically not in the Mediterranean but it had to go somewhere!
There is a remarkable degree of similarity between these nations in scale and timing.
- Testing – Malta is keeping pace with the UK whilst the other 3 are doing about 1/3 the numbers.
- Cases – All are broadly similar with the UK.
- Deaths – Malta is the lowest with the others broadly similar with the UK.
- Excess Mortality – All nations are remarkably similar to the UK.
- Positivity – Malta similar to the UK with other 3 higher.
- CFR – Portugal similar to the UK with other 3 higher.
- Vaccinations – Again, like other EU countries, the other 4 overtook the UK in June but remain behind overall with Malta the exception.
6 – UK v Anglosphere (5 Eyes)
The charts below compare the UK (bars) with the following 4 countries (lines); USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Together these 5 countries have what is known as the 5 Eyes pact for sharing intelligence material.
There are clear differences between North America and Oceania.
- Testing – USA matched UK until Christmas but have not kept pace since. Canada & Oceania have always had lower levels of testing.
- Cases – USA & Canada differ but are broadly similar to the UK overall. Oceania are much lower.
- Deaths – Cumulatively, the UK & USA are broadly similar, Oceania has seen very little and Canada is in between.
- Excess Mortality – Notable that Canada is not much lower than the UK despite fewer COVID19 deaths. Oceania show typical fluctuations.
- Positivity – There are considerable differences with the USA & Canada higher than the UK and Oceania near zero.
- CFR – USA & Canada higher than UK, Oceania lower.
- Vaccinations – USA & Canada are similar to the UK and are well ahead of Oceania.
New Zealand followed by Australia stand out here but whether they are good models for the UK is unclear. The vast differences in population density and most of all their geographical isolation makes it difficult to decide if they are useful role models. They are also in the Southern hemisphere as well so their seasons are the other way around.
7 – UK v Far East
The charts below compare the UK (bars) with the following 4 countries (lines); Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.
The differences between the UK and these 4 countries is dramatic.
- Testing – Singapore is same as the UK but the other 3 countries are doing very little.
- Cases – Singapore had a similar 1st wave to the UK whilst the other 3 countries had almost no cases.
- Deaths – Until last 3 months, there had been no COVID19 deaths in the Far East, at least based on what the eye can see. In last 3 months, Japan has had twice the number of deaths of the UK.
- Excess Mortality – South Korea has been relatively high over the pandemic even though the monthly numbers are not that high individually.
- Positivity – Japan is much higher than the UK over the last 3 months. South Korea & Taiwan are also higher.
- CFR – South Korea & Singapore are similar to the UK over last 3 months whilst South Korea & Taiwan are higher.
- Vaccinations – With the exception of Singapore, vaccinations have been lower particularly in Taiwan.
The OWID data set you can download also includes a number of economic, health and demographic indicators for the countries and one reason I chose these 4 countries rather than say Vietnam or China, is that these 4 are very similar to the UK especially in age structure and wealth. We know that age is a major predictor of death risk and yet the death rate is so much lower here.
Is this because people in these countries are simply less likely to catch COVID19 due to measures taken? This might be one reason since the CFR s & Positivities are broadly similar to the UK over time. But I note that testing is so much lower than the UK which surprises me. Thus it could be that people are dying of COVID19 but without testing it hasn’t been possible to confirm the cause hence why the number of deaths are so low. Now that excess mortality statistics are available, an interesting picture is emerging in South Korea which has up to date statistics. It should be noted that Taiwan has not supplied excess mortality data since December, Singapore since March and Japan since April.
So overall, it does appear that the Far East have something to offer the UK but some of the data surprises me. I am particularly surprised at the low level of testing, Singapore excepted, and I note OWID make a prominent point of making on their website that testing is one of the keys to managing the pandemic. What I see in the Far East doesn’t conform with that.
8 – UK v South America
The charts below compare the UK (bars) with the following 4 countries (lines); Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador & Peru..
The differences between the UK and these 4 countries is dramatic especially over the last 3 months. Some of the timing differences will be because these countries are in the Southern hemisphere.
- Testing – South America has done little or no testing.
- Cases – Whilst similar overall, there are clear timing differences with the UK due to the reversed seasons.
- Deaths – Peru has had shockingly high number of COVID19 deaths, the other 3 are broadly similar to the UK overall but much higher in the last 3 months
- Excess Mortality – Peru excess mortality is horrific on top of the official COVID19 numbers. Ecuador is also terrible showing that their COVID19 numbers are badly undercounted. Argentina has not published their data whilst Brazil is broadly similar to the UK.
- Positivity – Not available in Brazil due to lack of testing data, extraordinarily high in other 3 nations..
- CFR – Much higher than the UK.
- Vaccinations – Vaccinations have been lower. I would have said South America has to be the priority for vaccination campaigns as they move into their winter.
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– More posts about COVID19 –
These links have not been updated for nearly a year so they are largely archives with exception number 3 which is still pertinent.
- A very useful guidance to interpreting statistics of COVID19 published by the Royal Statistical Society.
- My collection of links to all kinds of material related to the statistics of COVID19, epidemiological modelling and testing.
- How large a sample is needed in order to decide whether COVID19 restrictions can be lifted? A lot, lot less than you think!
- Latest trends in COVID19 deaths in England using 6 time series
- How many excess deaths will there be as of 19th June? This is my estimate of excess deaths using a statistical model.
- Latest trends in COVID19 cases in England