News Coronavirus Coronavirus: Australia leads the world in curbing deaths as Europe is swamped

Coronavirus: Australia leads the world in curbing deaths as Europe is swamped

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Australia is among the nations that recorded zero or one coronavirus deaths in November. Australia is the only country that experienced a destructive second wave in August and September to have joined this select group.

November successes

Thirty nations recorded zero or one death in November, the same number as in October, down from 31 in September. All but one are in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. They include China, New Zealand, Cambodia, Taiwan, Singapore, Papua New-Guinea, Thailand, Fiji and Vietnam. The exception is Haiti.

Nations with deaths below three per million – which some analysts see as the benchmark for ‘success’ in controlling the pandemic – are down to 67. This compares with 71 in October and 80 in September. Most are in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East.

Australia setting the standard

Australia handled the first wave of infections relatively well, with only 104 deaths to the end of June. Of course, that is 104 too many, but at 4.1 deaths per million it was among the world’s lowest.

Then came the tragic second wave, lifting total fatalities to 652 by the end of August. Most of these occurred in August and most were in Victoria, as has been well-documented. The fix thereafter was impressive, with 234 September deaths, 21 in October and one in November.

There’s been celebrations across Australia as hard state borders finally reopen.

No other country has achieved this. New Zealand, for example, has handled the pandemic exceptionally well with 25 deaths in total and only three since May. But they were spared the second wave.

Bolivia, population 11.7 million, has had the second-best trajectory, with a disastrous 1522 deaths in September, then 784 in October and just 237 in November. That is a sound achievement, but a long way from Australia’s one.

Europe overwhelmed

The dominant theatre of the pandemic shifted in November. Whereas the Americas have had the worst-affected countries in recent months, Europe is again the epicentre.

Emphatically so. Of all 175 major countries listed at Worldometers – populations above 340,000 – the worst-hit 18 are all in Europe. They include these advanced nations, with deaths per million for November shown:

Austria: 230

France: 244

Italy: 281

Switzerland: 290

Poland: 305

Italy was initially the hardest hit European nation. Photo: AP

Hungary: 318

Bulgaria: 398

Belgium: 439

Czech Republic: 471

Slovenia: 528

These 10 nations comprise 2.8 per cent of the world’s population but have experienced 24.4 per cent of all November deaths, a total of 66,077. These appalling outcomes make the rest of the world appear to be doing well when, in fact, that is far from the reality.

The Americas

In August and September, most nations in North, Central and South America were bunched together at the loser end of the deaths per million chart. Of the 16 worst-affected nations in September, 13 were in this region, including the US, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador.

They have now risen dramatically.

A worker disinfects the bench during half-time at a soccer match in Chile. Photo: Getty

But this shift in rankings is not because things are better in the Americas. It is because deaths have soared in Europe. The US suffered 72.8 deaths per million in September and 73.4 in October, thus ranking near the bottom of the table. In November, US deaths blew out to 115 per million, but moved up the table as European states tumbled.

Caveats regarding the counting

As always, there are questions about the accuracy of the data from some countries. Of the 30 nations with zero or one November deaths, 12 are poor African states, including Sierra Leone, Burundi and Lesotho, which may not diagnose all causes of death precisely.

Is it really possible not one person died in China, out of 1.44 billion people spread across a vast area encompassing many regions with poor medical facilities? Possible, yes. Unlikely, also yes.

Second wave still surging

Tragically, many nations that have copped the devastating second wave are yet to see it crest.

Advanced countries with more deaths in November than in any of the past six months and with a continuing upwards curve include Germany (see the graph at the top of this article), the US, Canada, Russia, Greece, Portugal, Austria and Switzerland.

We shall see how the situation changes in December. Will the vaccine make a difference? How soon? Will Australia – with NSW recording its first new case in 25 days on Thursday – continue its impressive progress?

Right now, as was the situation at the end of June, the world is again watching Australia with admiration and envy.

Alan Austin is a freelance Australian journalist, currently living in Nîmes in the South of France.