COVID-19’s tracking overload
Every day, the statistics about COVID-19 cases and deaths make the front page, and keep repeating the boring message that the Philippines is the “worst” performer in Southeast Asia. Here is how I recommend that the scores be read:
* Make comparisons with the entire world, not just Southeast Asia. These are official figures, so be wary of numbers from authoritarian countries like Cambodia, China, Russia, and Vietnam.
* Use figures that are per unit of the population to compare countries of different size. I find worldometers.info the most useful source because cases, deaths, and tests are already given per million of the population (abbreviated here as “/M”).
As of last Thursday, for the Philippines, the cases were 2,231/M and the deaths were 36/M, cumulated from the start of the pandemic. For the world as a whole, cases were 3,592/M and deaths were 116/M. Since only 3.24 percent of the world’s cases have resulted in death, COVID-19 is NOT a super-deadly disease.
“Cases” are not equal to “infections” because the latter concept also includes people infected but invisible to the health authorities since untested. In Singapore, the case rate is 9,757/M, very far above the world case rate of 3,592/M, perhaps because Singapore has done 1 test for every 3 people, which is effectively mass testing. To estimate the infection rate efficiently, what I recommend is scientific random testing of the population, which only requires several thousands, not several millions, of tests at a time.
For our neighbors, the current (9/10/20) case rates per M are: Indonesia 742, Brunei 331, Malaysia 295, Thailand 49, Myanmar 35, Cambodia 16, Vietnam 11.
* For me, the prime indicator of performance is low fatality. The deaths divided by the cases equals the fatality rate. In the Philippines, this is 1.61 percent, meaning that 98.39 percent of the cases have survived so far, although some cases are still active.
For Southeast Asia, the current fatality rates are: Indonesia 4.04 percent, Vietnam 3.64 percent, Brunei 2.11 percent, Thailand 1.63 percent, Philippines 1.61 percent, Malaysia 1.36 percent, Myanmar 0.57 percent, Singapore 0.05 percent (no deaths data for Cambodia). This indicates that medical care in Indonesia and Vietnam is below world standards. Medical care in Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia is decent; Singapore looks amazing.
Incidentally, the United States, as of 9/11/20, has a case rate of 19,765/M and a death rate of 589/M, implying a fatality rate of 2.98 percent of the cases—slightly below the world average, and much higher than that of the Philippines.
The Oxford Stringency Index. The performance of the Philippines in combating the pandemic has been very costly to the Filipino people, as measured by the SWS well-being indicators, due to the extremely stringent government policies.
The stringency can be analyzed by a very useful index created by the Blavatnik School of Government of the University of Oxford, which assembles the policies on school closing, workplace closing, cancellation of public events, restrictions on gathering size, closing of public transport, stay at home requirements, restrictions on internal movement, and restrictions on international travel. It is called OxCGRT, which stands for Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker.
The Oxford Stringency Index (OxSI for short), is a number from 0 to 100, available for all countries since January 2020, updated daily. The Philippine OxSI started at 11 on 1/24/20, and rose quickly in February and March until it hit 100 from March 22 to April 30. It subsided to 96 in May, 83 by mid-June, and 81 by late July; it was in the 70s by August, and at 56 by Aug. 24.
No other country in Southeast Asia ever reached an OxSI of 100. The latest OxSIs and their historical peaks (max) are: Vietnam 74, max 95; Indonesia 60, max 80; Malaysia 57, max 75; Singapore 52, max 85; and Thailand 46, max 75.
Incidentally, the latest US OxSI is 68 (Aug. 28); its max was at 73 from 3/21 to 6/14/20.
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