Right now Australia has one of the lowest death rates from coronavirus in the world. With 4,561 cases but only 19 deaths, the clumsy Case Fatality Rate is only 0.4% — lower even than Germany. While some commentators think that’s a reason to ease up it may be partly due to temporary good geographical luck. Plus winter is coming…
1. Australians with Coronavirus are younger (for the moment).
Most infections in Australia came from overseas travel — something the 20 to 70 year olds do a lot of, but apparently the 80+ age group aren’t flying on 20 hour long haul trips across the Pacific. (Last week the most common source of Australia’s cases was the USA, especially Aspen). This week the main source is Europe, and the nation called “cruise ships”. If and when the virus starts to spread among the older cohorts the death rates will rise. (Unless we figure out that treatment first).
Compare the ages groups of patients in Korea and Italy. Fully 40% of Italian (known) cases are 70+.
As of March 14, South Korea reported that nearly 30% of its confirmed coronavirus cases were in patients ages 20 to 29. In Italy, by comparison, 3.7% of coronavirus patients fell into that age range, according to a report from Andreas Backhaus, a research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies.
2. Australia has done a lot of testing —
Australia has tested 230,000 people or about 1% of the population, and since most of those tests were aimed at travellers they have found the infected younger cohort, unlike countries with less testing. Australia has done slightly more tests per capita than South Korea (which has done about 400,000 tests on a population of 52m).
Germany also also has low rates — largely due to lots of testing and a younger group of patients
But only 560 people known to be suffering from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus have died there, putting Germany’s case fatality rate at just 0.9%. That gives Germany one of the lowest rates in the world, making it an outlier compared to places like Italy, where 11.0% of confirmed patients have died from the disease, and even the U.S., which has a rate of 1.8%.
Even though Germany and Italy’s populations have similar average ages—they’re the two most elderly nations in the European Union—the median age of Germany’s population known to be infected by COVID-19 is lower: 46 as opposed to Italy’s 63. Smeeth says the lower average age is likely to just be a side effect of widespread testing. “If you are testing more people, then you will get a much younger age distribution of positive cases,” Smeeth says. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that the true age distribution of the virus is radically different between the two countries.”
Germany also has twice as many intensive care beds as Italy does:
Germany also has a high number of intensive care beds, meaning its hospitals have so far not been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in the same way some hospitals in Northern Italy have. According to a paper published in 2012, Germany had 29.2 critical care beds per 100,000 people—more than double Italy’s 12.5. (In the U.S., it’s even higher, at 34.2.) And these beds are currently only 70-80% occupied, according to Germany’s Deutsche Krankenhausgesellschaft (DKG), an umbrella group of hospital operators. “This means that there is for now sufficient capacity for seriously ill coronavirus patients,” the DKG says on its website.