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.

News: Turkmenistan Gets It Right

From the I Know This Puts Me in The Old Attila the Hun, Died In The Wool Conservative, Young Fogey department, a story from Turkmenistan that I can’t help feeling is a step in the right direction. News Central Asia reports (and thanks to TechDirt for pointing it out) that drivers in Turkmenistan are now forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, listen to loud music or use a mobile phone while driving their vehicles.

These restrictions were announced on 1 May 2003 under the presidential order “Rules of Traffic for Turkmenistan” but their release was delayed because the driver carrying the order from the Ministry of Defence was arrested for picking his nose on the way. (Actually I made that bit up. He was caught playing The Rubettes ‘Sugar Baby Love’ and singing the high bits, thereby also breaking another set of laws about mimicking strangled chickens while working heavy machinery. )

The government handout goes on (and all this is real if nCa is to be believed): These rules are meant to enforce contemporary world practices in Turkmenistan.

Part of the problem seems to be enforcement. The regular traffic police, which operated under the Ministry of the Interior, was liquidated last year for reasons I am not able to go into here, mainly because I am not an expert on Turkmenistan. They now work under the management of the ministry of defence which inducts military conscripts as traffic cops. This may not be unrelated to a new system of penalties to encourage people to conform to the laws. According to a system introduced in January, a traffic penalty must be paid within 12 hours, or by 8 am the next day if the ticket was issued after 6 pm the previous day. In case of failure to do so, the amount of penalty would double every 12 hours. After 72 hours, the vehicle would be confiscated and will remain in government custody until the fine is paid. “It has been noted with satisfaction that the [stricter] rules have brought good results; now there are fewer traffic incidents,” says the official statement. It probably also means there are no cars left on the road that don’t belong to the police. That the traffic police are all carrying grenade launchers also probably helps. (I made that bit up too.)

Now it only remains to be seen what happens with these new violations. I have to say I’m all in favour. I hate people eating while they’re driving, particularly if they’re on the phone. And especially if they’re drinking at the same time, AND listening to The Rubettes. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.