By Tom O’Leary
In all the catastrophic information generated by the coronavirus crisis it is easy to overlook an crucial piece of good news. The virus can be defeated and has been defeated in many countries. Unfortunately, in many western countries one of the self-serving and reactionary myths peddled is that the coronavirus cannot be defeated and that we have to go back to work and ‘live with it’.
It is easy to demonstrate that many countries have defeated the virus, or decisively contained its lethal spread. Chart 1 below shows the daily death toll in a series of selected countries. From April 18 onwards, there is a group of eleven countries whose maximum daily death toll is now below ten. In many of these countries, there have been no new deaths at all over a prolonged period.
Chart 1. Selected Countries with Daily Covid-19 Deaths Below Ten Since mid-April
There are four criteria for selection. Each country has had a significant outbreak of the disease – meaning they are already below their peak. They have experienced no sustained new rise in the death toll They are also countries with a population of approximately 5 million people. Finally, their death toll has not been in double figures on a daily basis in that period. As the chart shows this group includes Australia, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Greece, Laos, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Venezuela and Viet Nam.
Chart 2. Selected Countries with Daily Covid-19 Deaths at Two or Below Since mid-April
There is a further select group of 7 countries where the daily death toll has not exceeded two since April 18, shown in Chart 2 below. This group includes Cambodia, China, New Zealand, Singapore, Laos and Viet Nam. These countries have effectively eliminated the deadly spread of the virus. In per capita terms, China has the lowest death toll of all, which has had no deaths at all.
Taking either group of countries, they are far from homogeneous in terms of geography, population or political system. What they all did, to one extent or another is learn from the Chinese experience when it locked down the province of Hubei. Above all, they put public health first, not a vain attempt to avoid disruption to the economy.
Taking the second group of countries, their combined death toll has been minimal over a period of 6 weeks, a total of under 300 over that period. This is in a combined population of over 1.5 billion people. They did not live with the virus. They defeated it.
By contrast, other countries mishandling of the crisis has been catastrophic, including the US, UK and Brazil. When their leaders demand the population lives with the virus, of course they mean that many of them will die with it. This is a political choice, not an inevitability.