Although the coronavirus is still spreading worldwide at breakneck speed, news headlines are becoming more varied and more optimistic. Since Monday, New Zealand has become the first non-microstate on earth to be officially declared corona-free, after the very last patient was pronounced cured. Domestic restrictions were lifted and the flag was flown high!
Even in Europe, there are countries where the figures have started stagnating quite substantially in May. Iceland seems to be causing a bit of a stir at the moment by claiming to be the first country in Europe to be COVID-free. According to their official statistics, there are currently three confirmed cases of patients with the virus. Nevertheless, differences between all of the various European countries still vary greatly. Not only on a national level but also on a sub-national level.
Did it end in May?
The color variations on the maps of May 22nd and June 5th have decreased quite a bit compared to the previous maps. This is not surprising given that the virus barely seems to be spreading in increasingly more countries.
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Malta (25 ‘active cases’), Croatia (15), and Slovenia (17) look set to become the next nations where the pandemic will peter out. The number of people in Slovakia, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, and the Baltic States that could in theory infect other people has also shrunk to less than 500.
Even during the early days of ‘Juno,’ there were several regions of some countries where there were no new infections, like in Norway, Denmark, Austria, and Hungary. The map below shows the number of new positive diagnoses per 100,000 inhabitants over the past week.
Still, one country is seriously out of sync. Moreover, the color palette has actually been slightly modified, as otherwise, the whole of Europe would have been white with deeply red areas in Sweden. The stubborn Scandinavian country has already stuck out like a sore thumb before, but never as bad as it does now. What does this in fact tell us? – Lockdown measures do lead to fewer new diagnoses. This is not breaking news in itself, but it is becoming extremely obvious this way. Whereas in previous months the Swedish approach was viewed with interest, criticism is now mounting sharply. Confidence in this approach is also declining at a rapid pace back home in Sweden.
When the figures for the Swedish province of Västra Götaland were entered, at first we thought that this could not possibly be right. Within one week they supposedly went from 5772 to 7889 positive diagnoses in a province that has 1.7 million residents. Nonetheless, that figure is correct. Between 29 May and 5 June, there are no less than sixteen Swedish provinces among the Top 20 European regions with the highest increase of confirmed cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
The microstates Andorra and San Marino stand out too, but this is because of their relatively low population. The only places in continental Europe with a similar situation are Belarus (a country that wanted to tackle this ‘flu’ with ice hockey and vodka) and the Portuguese capital Lisbon.
According to the Portuguese Minister of Health, an expansion of testing capacity has caused this conspicuous spike in diagnoses. Whether the recent increase is attributable to more tests or more transmissions remains to be seen. In any case, positive diagnoses shed a limited amount of light on the situation, which is why the number of fatalities in the past week has also been mapped out below.
Lower and lower mortality rates
The green color indicating zero new fatalities is beginning to gain quite a bit of ground in Europe. Not a single death has occurred in Lithuania, Norway, Slovakia, and Croatia. In the Netherlands, too, the provinces of Groningen, Drenthe, and Overijssel kept that macabre counter at zero as well. This was quite a different story a month ago.
An increasing number of countries are reopening their borders to international travelers. The Netherlands was no exception last week. Although the Code Orange travel advisory still remains in force in Sweden and Great Britain. On the basis of these maps, the outlook looks the most auspicious for the British since they seem to be becoming less conspicuous on the diagnosis map. Mortality rates are also expected to fall to European averages in about a week or two.
The bright red dot in southern Switzerland is due to the death of one patient. One death per 100,000 inhabitants in a canton of only 36,433 inhabitants drastically distorts the general picture.
The ‘official death toll’ has to be taken with a generous pinch of salt as most countries only count deaths in hospitals. Higher than average mortality rates provide a more reliable picture but are difficult to collate on a sub-national level if that kind of data is actually available at all.
The decline that started in May seems to be a keeper for the time being. All the same, a New Zealand scenario is still a utopia for the majority of Europeans. Iceland, Croatia, Slovenia, and Malta may manage it this month, but a continent-wide, corona-free summer is not yet in the offing.
After some very tough months, June will be marked by the easing of restrictions in many countries. Whether this loosening will lead to new corona outbreaks is difficult to predict on the basis of this data. Up until now, this doesn’t appear to be happening, but as is the case with lockdowns, the consequences will only become apparent in their entirety in about one or two weeks
Will there be a second wave? It’s far too early to tell. On a global level, the first wave is still in full swing with enormous surges in Russia, Mexico, India, and South America. Also in the United States, plagued by corona and civil unrest, there seems to be a new influx of COVID-19 patients in recent days after a week-long decrease.
The source database that has been used to compile the maps in this article at a sub-national level is freely available to anyone who wants to access it for their own research or anyone who would like to take a closer look at Google Sheets to see what the situation is like in a specific region.