The Dogs That Haven’t Barked (Or We Just Haven’t Heard Them Yet)

I’ve been wondering about the countries we haven’t heard from yet on Covid numbers, or which have just flown under the radar. What I call the dogs that haven’t barked. In short, who’s on the other side of the curve, and who isn’t?

The most interesting data I could find was at EndCoronavirus.org, a website put together by Yaneer Bar-Yam from the New England Complex Systems Institute. They have collected together data from 72 countries and plotted graphs of their curve flattening efforts. They’ve categorised the countries into three. Those which

  • have already beaten COVID-19 (where the curve is back to where it started)
  • are nearly there (where it’s half way down the slope)
  • need to take action (where it’s still near the peak
https://www.endcoronavirus.org/countries

That’s interesting enough, but I wanted to get a sense of what that means. First off, I wanted to get a sense of how many people that is — how many people are in countries that have beaten COVID (I actually it’s a little early to say they have, I’m using Bar-Yam’s terminology), and how many people are living in countries which still need to take action?

So I did a bit of downloading and spreadsheeting. This is what we have:

where populations sit on the curve

So according to that data, more than half of the populations of the countries measured haven’t really started to tackle Covid-19. Gulp. There are some big countries in there:

Eight of the 10 most populous countries don’t score well

Now, you could quibble about which countries are at which stage, and some countries have clearly done more than others, but the curve doesn’t really lie. At least, it’s as good a yardstick as any.

So my next question was: how many people are we leaving out? Turns out quite a lot. The countries covered had a population of 5.9 billion, which leaves about 1.9 billion people unaccounted for. The website says that the “set of countries is certainly not an exhaustive list, but we do highlight the countries which we find to be interesting or important in some way.” It doesn’t say why it found them important and interesting. Possibly the data was clearer for those included. Hopefully they’ll add more countries once the data is clearer.

So what does the pie chart of people look like if we account for the missing two billion? We get this:

The missing quarter

The population in countries that haven’t started yet goes down to 42%, which is still a big chunk of humanity, while the ‘good guys’ account for about 23%. A quarter of the world’s population doesn’t appear at all.

So what happens if we put all this onto a map? Where are all these people?

The gray of Africa and Central Asia

It makes for grim viewing. Several things jump out:

  • The countries doing well are flattered by the presence of China. And Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea. In population terms the largest country outside APAC to get a star is Greece, with 10.4 million people. It does not look good.
  • The gray areas are a big concern. Very little data from Africa and Central Asia was ‘interesting or important’ enough to include in the study thus far. As we’ve read in the media, Africa is unprepared for Covid-19, where two countries account for nearly half of all tests carried out in Africa so far, according to data collected by Reuters.
  • The other gray area is Central Asia. A piece in the Atlantic Council’s New Atlanticist this week said that the countries of the region were each ploughing their own furrow, with varied, sometimes suspicious, results: “Tajikistan and Turkmenistan had been clinging to a fantastical claim of zero cases for weeks, despite the recent spike in mysterious deaths attributed to pneumonia. Tajikistan finally reported its first fifteen confirmed cases on April 30, after weeks of speculations and warning from international experts.”

I don’t know what all this says, exactly, but it sheds a little light on the dogs that haven’t barked. Covid-19 is a pandemic, which means it infects people, not countries. Yes, we can seal borders, and keep people from traveling, but at the end of the day the disease will only be conquered when every country has flattened every curve — or, unlikely, never let it rise up in the first place. None of us is going to be able to travel as freely as we once did, or see supply chains and shops creak back into life again, until all the people in these countries are through the same tunnel we’re currently in. That could mean a lot more pain, heartbreak, and death.

So thinking of this by population size, and looking more deeply at the countries that either haven’t seen the curve appear, or aren’t reporting it for one reason or another, is one way of knowing how long we’re all going to be fighting this war.

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