Dr Chris Staff
(former Senior Lecturer, Department of Artificial Intelligence, University of Malta)
The rate of new cases of coronavirus infections in the sixteen countries we have been monitoring is beginning to slow down, as can be seen in Figure 1. Only Finland (FI) and Denmark (DK) continue to show an increase in the 14-day rate of infections per 100000 population compared to last week (Week 21 in Figure 1). Germany (DE), Greece (EL), and Portugal (PT), who up to last week were still increasing in numbers, are beginning to level out. Malta’s numbers remain relatively static. In fact, the quicker and steeper decreases, relatively speaking, have all occurred in countries that are or were until recently in lockdown (represented by dashed lines in Figure 1), including Austria (AT) who only went into lockdown two weeks ago.
Figure 2 shows the situation in each of the sixteen countries since they announced their most recent nationwide restrictions. Week 0 represents the week each country enforced their restrictions. Malta, Ireland, and Finland announced their restrictions six weeks ago, Denmark, France, and Spain, five weeks ago, and most of the remaining countries four weeks ago. In Figure 2, the countries with a dashed line are, or were until recently, in lockdown. The countries with a solid line decided against a lockdown. Figures 1 and 2 show that only four countries are at a significantly higher 14-day rate of infections than Malta – Austria, Poland, Portugal, and Italy. Austria only went into lockdown two weeks ago and is the only country of these four that is in lockdown.
Figure 3 shows most clearly which countries have reduced their 14-day rate of new infections to below their pre-lockdown levels (i.e., the rate now is less than the rate in Week 0). As in Figure 2, Week 0 is the week each country imposed their latest nationwide restrictions. Weeks 1 to 6 are the weeks since then. If a country has a rate of infection relative to Week 0 greater than 1 then it means that the country has a higher 14-day rate of new infections per 100000 population than in Week 0 (e.g., Finland (FI), the solid blue line above Malta (red) in Week 6 has a rate nearly 75% higher than the rate reported in Week 0). If a country has a value less than 1 then it means that the country has a lower rate than in Week 0 (e.g., Ireland, the dashed green line below Malta in Week 6 has a 40% lower rate than in Week 0). The aim of all countries is to reduce the number of infections to 0.
The most glaring observation about Figure 3 is that the only countries that are now reporting a lower 14-day rate of new infections than their pre-Week 0 levels are those that imposed a lockdown. Currently, six of the eight countries in lockdown have brought their levels down (Germany (DE) and Greece (EL) have not). However, of the eight countries that did not impose a lockdown, including Malta, none have brought their levels down to pre-Week 0 levels. Of these, Finland’s and Denmark’s levels are still increasing, while Norway, Portugal, Poland, and Italy, and Spain are all beginning to show positive signs of recovery.
Figure 4 shows the percentage of new infections in each country since the 23rd October, when Malta, Ireland, and Finland last introduced nationwide restrictions – the countries that introduced them earliest. Countries represented by shaded bars are in lockdown. Poland (PL) has had nearly 80% of all cases since the start of the pandemic occurring since the 23rd October; Ireland (IE) has had 25% of cases; and Malta (MT) has had 48%. Given that eleven countries have had, since the 23rd October, more than 50% of their total number of cases during the entire pandemic, it is clear that there has recently been a resurgence in infections. Is there a corresponding resurgence in the number of deaths?
Figure 5 shows that, in most countries, the percentage of deaths since 23rd October is less than half (50%) of the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, and in seven countries it is less than one-third (33%). Ireland (IE) has the lowest rate at about 10% of the total, but in Poland (PL), Austria (AT), and Greece (EL) more than 70% of the people who have died with coronavirus have died since the 23rd of October. As we saw in Figure 4, these three countries also have the highest proportion of new cases since that date. In Malta (MT), 66% of all deaths have occurred since Malta imposed the latest restrictions 43 days ago.
Finally, in Figure 6, we compare the number of deaths per 1000 infections since the 23rd October 2020. The main difference between this figure and the previous ones is that we are no longer comparing the number of new infections or deaths based on the population of each country (i.e., per 100000 population). Instead we compare how many people have died based on the actual number of infections reported. For every 1000 people with coronavirus in Denmark (DK), 3.45 have died. In Greece (EL), 25.25 people have died per 1000 infections – since 23rd October.
In Malta (MT), 20 people have died per 1000 people infected since the 23rd October 2020 – the third highest rate of the 16 countries we’re monitoring.
As we move towards Christmas, we must remember that every time we meet someone who is from a different household, even if we are related to them, we are at risk of catching or passing on coronavirus, even if we are social distancing and wearing a mask. Malta’s latest 7-day rate of infection is 820. With a death rate of 20 per 1000 infections, every person who is not following all the health protocols and guidelines is contributing to the deaths of at least 16 people per week.