Corona’s extremely low death toll

This is what I can’t wrap my head around. If coronavirus is a true global public health emergency… then why have only ~3,500 people (reportedly) died from it, the vast majority of them in China? As pandemics go, this is pretty lame. Furthermore, the death toll seems to be increasing in a linear rather than exponential fashion:

Not to be callous, but that is a really *tiny* number of people on a global scale. For comparison, the swine flu epidemic in the US killed some 11,690 people, including 1,180 children, in 2009, and as I recall, the US mostly shrugged that off.

On a Chinese scale, ~3,000 deaths over two months is basically a rounding error. That’s fewer than the number of people that died in the flooding of May through August 2010, which barely elicited comment at the time (I think it was mentioned once in my office in Shanghai that summer and I never heard anyone speak of it again).

Of course, the death toll could get way higher as this virus spreads to every corner of the globe… but the point is, it hasn’t yet. We’re still chugging along in the low 4-digit range, and it seems we’re going to be “stuck” there for a while, unless there is a sudden surge in the number of deaths – perhaps in a country or region where the health care system has broken down and the hospitals become super-incubators of the disease. But so far (with the possible exception of Iran), that doesn’t seem to have happened yet.

if this virus is truly dangerous – dangerous enough to warrant locking down half the population of the world’s largest nation – we should be seeing tens or hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of deaths worldwide by now, should we not? What gives?

Final thought: the above assumes that China is accurately reporting the death toll. If the actual body count is far greater than 3,000 – could that be hidden? Could China sweep 100,000 deaths under the rug? As returned expat Nate Mesics suggested to me, in a country with 14,000 times that number, it’s possible. How about a million? In China, anything is possible.

2 thoughts on “Corona’s extremely low death toll

  1. I have had similar thoughts. The death rate is low, assuming we believe data from China. But you are right, since we have had data from South Korea and the west, the death toll only doubled, which still is not very high. I have read a lo of reports that said the real damage will be done by the reaction, rather than the virus. On the other hand. most of those who have survived were in hospitals with round the clock care. So, I don’t know that that everyone on Earth has access to that kind of care or can afford it. Given a choice, I would choose…No coronavirus. Let the record show that I am against.

    • Agreed. I’ve read that something like 10-20% of cases require hospitalization. That may be the key number to watch, along with the death toll. 20% could easily overwhelm stretched health care systems during an outbreak. In Wuhan, something like 30% of doctors and nurses became carriers of the virus, turning the hospitals into incubation centers. People who needed hospitalization for other ailments got pushed to the back of the queue, probably causing more deaths. My vague and possibly ill-informed impression is that Iran is turning into another Wuhan. Seattle may be next.

      For the record, I am also anti-virus.

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