Why the Coronavirus Statistics are SO Wrong

At time of writing, over 100 countries and territories have implemented restrictions or outright bans on travelers from South Korea, which appears to be (by some margin), the nation hardest-hit (per capita). I say South Korean coronavirus statistics appear to be the world’s worst, because there is increasing evidence that official global statistics appear to be under-reported at best and practically pointless at worst.

There are numerous examples of things that simply don’t make any sense… and a number of interconnected reasons for this. For example, China (80,000+ cases) and South Korea (7,500+) both share borders with North Korea, which has a massively underdeveloped healthcare system. At present North Korea (perhaps unsurprisingly) has officially recorded ZERO cases of COVID-19. By any measure of logic, that doesn’t compute.

Testing for the virus (South Korea)

Logically speaking, it doesn’t surprise me that the official coronavirus figures here in Korea look so frightening, considering around 200,000 people (so far) have been tested for the virus. Testing is free nationwide, including at the newly installed drive-through testing centers. At present, the number of people confirmed to have the virus is 3.7 percent of the number tested.

Testing for the virus (USA)

The figures here are very, very different, where they are available at all, and reportage of statistics (where available) makes for a frightening read. In early March, Vice President Mike Pence stated that 1.5 million tests would be available within a week, a figure disputed by health officials, and which makes the fact that, as at March 6, an abysmal 1,800 tests had been conducted in the United States just… mindboggling. So… the number of Americans with COVID-19 was (at that time) 11.1 percent of the number tested. That is worrying to say the least. Testing in America is free, for some… meaning an unknown number of people (a very large number) will be uninclined or simply unable to be tested for the virus. That can’t be good.

This is just one comparison of two countries’ official statistics. There are other very worrying numbers coming out of Italy, Iran, France, Germany and Spain, and of course some numbers are missing altogether.

Analysing any situation purely by limited sets of raw numbers however is arguably guaranteed to generate skewed versions of ‘reality’. By my way of thinking, people in Korea might be panicking slightly more than necessary, and Americans should perhaps be far more concerned than they appear at present. These two very different cultural and socio-political responses to a global pandemic might also however explain South Korea’s coronavirus mortality rate (0.7%). This important statistic seems to be relatively overlooked. By comparison the current mortality rate in Iran is 3.3%, Italy (4.9%), USA (4.0%). The global COVID-19 mortality rate at time of writing is 3.3%.

We must remember though that these are just official ‘available’ statistics, remaining mindful that North Korea’s coronavirus mortality remains at ‘zero’.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Stu, you really do write one of the best blogs out there. Just FYI, I continue reading it because it’s good, not because you’re a friend.

  2. China, yes, but S.Koreans and N. Korea aren’t in contact with each other so how would that factor in with their numbers?

    • You’re right Diisha! I thought about that after I wrote… inter-Korean transmission is maybe the most unlikely anywhere, though the Yalu river border to China remains porous as always. A friend in the middle east pointed out that other countries aren’t reporting on this either. Real numbers just can’t be crunched.

  3. Hi Stu & all – Same line of thought as Diisha, that North Korea is so isolated that it’s probably quite safe in comparison to places where people are allowed to move to and fro; and then, with the mention of the Middle East, I wanted to share that (just to be cruel to myself and see what I am missing), I continue to get emails from the Royal Muscat Opera House and they have ended the season early; no more public tours or concerts this year.

    • Hi Diana, good to hear from you! I take your point about North Korea, which is relatively isolated, but it isn’t hermetically sealed (I’ve been there), and there is apparently a lot of cross-border black market trading with the Chinese. How’s everything at your end these days?

  4. The problem with any numbers is the reporting. Here in the U.S. they have decided that even if they suspect the virus they are to count it as a virus death. How can one trust any number that includes pneumonia, influenza, heart attack and virtually any respiratory failure as a death caused by the virus. They do this because they are directed to and also because they are paid $12,500 extra for a virus caused death.

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