COVID-19 Testing in Various Countries

The word Timocracy appeared in a cryptic crossword last week. I google it to find out that the Greek philosopher Plato had described various forms of state and governance, including this one. If I have understood ancient Greek correctly, in this type of governance, one really “owns” the business, with valour and responsibility; the management is not delegated to others. It sounds less complex than the other systems that have become more popular over the years, since his lifetime. But life is complex, and we must accept and serve our democracies if we happen to live and work in one.

One of my friends from college, Bhuvan Bhatnagar, is an economist, at the World Bank. He suggested that I consider a smaller set of countries to compare than the set of 205 countries about which Our World In Data collects data. He had narrowed down to a group of seventeen countries, that he was analysing. Not being a political economist myself, I am not sure which of these are democracies, timocracies, or communist regimes. One some thought, it does seem a different tack from analysing all the countries together, as I have for the earlier blogs in this series. It is still a big picture to look at twenty countries together, but a somewhat smaller big picture, than looking at all of them in a scatter plot.

Since all the data is based on how much testing is done, first a bar chart of test positivity rate (TPR), which is a ratio of how many tests came out positive. Some of Bhuvan’s seventeen countries, are not providing data, for example, Spain and Brazil. Argentina has a TPR of almost 25%, and India appears to be at 7.5%. The question that arises is why some countries are not testing anymore or reporting on the testing anymore? Is it that the test results are temporary, and a person who has tested positive can have a negative test some days after?

Figure 1 – Test Positivity Rate for Seventeen Countries

Displayed below, is a bar diagram of Total Deaths per Million, as of 25th August. These charts are for twenty countries, including the Philippines, Germany, and Thailand. Spain shows 617 deaths per million followed by the UK with 610 deaths per million. India is low with only 42 deaths per million. But there are many more millions in India, than in Spain, and in the UK, and this is a cause for concern. This means that a ratio can be misleading, and we have to look at the absolute variable too.

Figure 2 – Total Deaths per Million for Twenty Countries

In the second plot, I have taken Total Deaths for the same twenty countries, and the picture is somewhat different. USA has seen 177279 deaths, Brazil 115,309, and India is third with 58,390 deaths. Spain has witnessed 28,872 deaths, fewer than Italy and UK.

In total cases, too, the ranking is USA (5,740,909), Brazil (3,622,861), and India (3,167,323). When it comes to testing, India is currently doing the most testing among all the countries, excluding the US. About 36,827,520 or 37 million tests have been performed. Brazil is surprisingly not in third place, given the high case count, and fatality rate, but the UK and Germany take the third and fourth spot.

Figure 3 – Total Deaths for Twenty Countries
Figure 4 – Total Cases for Twenty Countries
Figure 5 – Total Tests for Twenty Countries

Hand sanitisation and hand wash facilities have been brought into the light from the onset of the pandemic. The plot below has the handwashing index along the x-axis, and mean tests per thousand people, along the y-axis. It reveals that the highest testing is done in those countries which have almost 95% to 99% handwashing facilities. The testing in these public hygiene conscious countries is twice that of those countries that are not over 95% on that score. This suggests a disciplined attitude towards handwashing and testing. This is a sample of eighty countries, from the frame of 205 countries. The top countries with over 95% of handwashing facilities are – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Oman, and Serbia. Some developed countries like the United States of America report no figures for handwashing facilities. This does make the variable appear to be a contested predictor variable.

Figure 6 – Hand Washing Facilities VS. Mean number of Tests performed.

Dr. Badri Toppur
Associate Professor, Rajalakshmi School of Business, Chennai
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