COVID-19: the winter wave and the death toll

The winter wave of COVID-19 cases continues to rage in Europe, North America and even Latin America and Asia.  So, as the vaccines get rolled out across the world to varying degrees of rapidity and volume, let’s measure the damage done in deaths from COVID-19 as we approach the end of 2020.

Which countries have been hit hardest? Using the Worldometer coronavirus database, I’ve selected some of the major countries globally in Chart 1 (measured as deaths per million of population).  It’s the large European countries and the US that lead the way on this measure, followed closely by Brazil and Mexico, two Latin American countries that have made little effort to contain the pandemic or provide any robust health support. The countries that have done that, like Germany, have a much lower death rate. And countries like South Africa and India, with relatively young populations, also have lower death rates.

Chart 1. Deaths per million

The second measure is the case fatality rate (CFR) ie the number of deaths per COVID-19 cases reported to the authorities (Chart 2).  Mexico shows a shocking death rate of over 8% of cases, most probably because of the failure to test and trace and the weakness of its health system.  Note that China’s CFR is high too, but that was all recorded in the first month of pandemic in Wuhan. The major European countries are well above the world average CFR of 2.2% after ten months. The US is just below the world average and well-organised countries like Germany, Korea and Denmark are even further down. India’s young population may explain its low CFR.

Chart 2. Case fatality rates (%)

Finally, there is the infection fatality rate (IFR).  This measures the death rate from all those infected. The World Health Organisation estimates that there are about 20 times more infections than cases reported, including all those who were asymptomatic.  Using that estimate, I find that around 18% or so globally have so far been infected, well below the so-called ‘herd immunity’ ratio of about 50-60% minimum.  So those governments that opted for a strategy of lite-lockdowns, hoping for herd immunity, like Sweden, have been proved wrong.  Indeed, Sweden’s IFR is pretty close to that of hard-hit Mexico (Chart 3).

Chart 3. Infection fatality rates (%)

The IFRs in most of the major countries are about 0.4-0.6%, more or less as forecast by various sample studies. And my estimate of 18% infected globally may well be too high.  If I lowered the global infection rate to 15%, then the IFRs would be in the 0.6-0.7% range.  That compares with the annual flu IFR of less than 0.1%.  So for these hard-hit countries, COVID-19 is at least five times more deadly than annual flu.  And, of course, we are now finding out that there is often long-lasting damage to human organs from COVID, unlike flu.

The world IFR is only 0.11%, or close to the maximum annual flu IFR, on my estimates.  But that world IFR average is skewed lower by countries with large youthful populations like India or large populations like China where infections have been drastically contained.  In most countries, infections are still spreading and that means many more deaths.  Roll on the vaccines.

17 thoughts on “COVID-19: the winter wave and the death toll

  1. Some people are horrified to find that our government can legally dictate where we eat, what we wear, who we meet, who we go out with, and who we can party with.

    I think this heteronomy is everyday capitalist life. Dress codes, bans on contact and going out and a hundred other rules of conduct dominate the world of work eight hours a day in every capitalist company. What is new and unusual is that with each lockdown, this external control is also extended to the alleged two or three hours of “free time” in the late afternoon and evening.

    These people live so naturally in the capitalist environment that they see the “dictatorship” only in the two to three-hour external control, but not in the eight-hour heteronomy.

    This horror of the people accepts daily lack of freedom and external determination in the world of work, which serves profit-making, but shout out loud “dictatorship” when the same external determination is extended to the two or three hours of “free time” in order to protect one’s own health, i.e. to preserve the social “workforce”.

  2. Of course, you’re assuming that the deaths (and the infections) are all FROM the Virus given just how inaccurate (and incorrectly used) the RT-PCR ‘test’ is with rather large, false positives being recorded because in fact, the PCR is NOT a test, it’s a ‘factory’ for the production of fragments of mRNA and DNA, through replication, fragments that are not necessarily from SARS-COV-2.

    See for example:

    And the conflicts of interests involved in the medical industry. See: that makes any statistics used highly suspect. And:

    And then, there’s the vaccines that are being boosted as the Holy Grail when already we’re seeing grave issues with at least one of them, the Pfizer version, see:

    with a long (and growing) list of people who shouldn’t take the vaccine!

    The worst aspect of this is the fact that the bastardisation of science by the state, media and big business has completely undermined the role of science is producing solutions that people can have TRUST in. Instead, ‘science’ has been used as a fear-inducing weapon

  3. I might add, to put the Virus into some kind of perspective, that each year at least 1.5 million people die from Tuberculosis, a highly infectious disease.

    1. Exactly what point does Barovsky think he (I know he’s male) is bolstering by citing deaths from tuberculosis? More deaths annually?

      Certainly that’s the case. So what? No one uses that to argue that tuberculosis is a hoax, perpetrated by corporations that want to market antibiotics; that the population can ignore the general public health rules on exposure, and ventilation regarding tuberculosis; that tuberculosis should go untreated; that it doesn’t place a burden on medical care providers; that so-called “herd immunity” will provide some sort of natural correction.

      And that tuberculosis is a “highly infectious disease”? Well, not nearly as infectious as the Covid19 virus. As the WHO site reports– tuberculosis infections amounted to 10 million in 2019, Tuberculosis– 10 million cases in 2019; Covid19 71 million cases in 11 months. Tuberculosis is not nearly as contagious as Covid19 and is curable and preventable. Barovsky opposes preventative measures, including I guess, vaccines for Covid 19. Nobody proposes that for tuberculosis.

      PCR, is a process for the rapid reproduction of portions of the genome of a cell or virus. It lends itself to any number of purposes, including the relatively rapid reproduction to signature parts of the genetic material of viruses. The sensitivity of the test is not such that it produces significant numbers of “false positives.” The greater risk is false negatives. Regardless of the the intent of the designers of the PCR process, the correlation of hospital admissions for respiratory distress, the increase in numbers of ICU admissions, and an increasing death rate, can all be indexed to the number of positive PCR tests without coincident positive tests for other pathogens that cause similar symptoms.

      Barovsky, along with others, would like to deny that. If it were only their own lives and well-being at stake, no big deal. But it isn’t. It’s the spread of the disease to those who are forced into contact with disease– like meat packing workers in the US; like those who encounter those who attend motorcycle jamborees in South Dakota, or like several people I know, who, working in public transportation in NYC, were exposed and died.

      I doubt that any of those claiming that Covid mortality and morbidity rates are fake news, would sign away his or her rights to medical treatment, including the PCR test, should they develop respiratory distress linked to Covid19. Instead they would, and do, show up at emergency rooms seeking care and exposing medical staff.

  4. The CDC publishes a page, Disease Burden of Influenza, recording the deaths from the flu over ten years. Total deaths is 359,000. The New York Times reports, “True Pandemic Toll”, that 356,000 excess deaths have occurred in 2020 so far. The Covid-19 is therefore about ten times more deadly than the annual flu. Furthermore, I recommend listening to a very informative 16 minute interview with a U.C.S.F. epidemiologist explaining how and why masks work, increasing asymptomatic cases from 40% to 95% of all Covid infections; google “Monica Gandhi, John Hopkins, Public Health On Call”.

  5. More focus should be given to the long term effects of COVID infection. Death is horrible, but before the bigots come in to claim it is just another flu the conversation needs to shift to the long term effects(most of which we still don’t even know completely) so that society in general including the left doesn’t get caught up on this idea that now that there is a timeline for vaccination humanity “won” and can go right back to business as usual.

    For starters

    The hit to the healthcare systems across the world will be felt for the next few years at least if not for well into the next decade.
    You can draw a parallel to the 9/11 first responders who died years later, some even more than a decade later.

  6. Coronavirus mortality statistics in Russia from the Worldometer portal are underestimated by at least half, and more likely three times or more.They take it directly from the government’s official coronavirus portal https://стопкоронавирус.рф/

    Then, about five-six weeks later, the monthly statistics from Rosstat (Russian Federal Service of State statistics) come out, according to which the number of covid deaths is one and a half to three times higher, and the supermortality rate comparing to the same month of 2019 is five times or more higher.

    You can see details (in Russian) on

    However, the data on the official corona portal is never corrected.

  7. The number of confirmed cases such as reported on worldometer are largely meaningless, due to vastly different testing philosophies across countries (see the tests/1M population metric).

    The number of deaths is much more reliable, although still imperfect (by definition an underestimate). The previous poster demonstrated this in the Russia example. I can with perfect confidence add that in the Turkey example the actual number of deaths are at least 2x the official count, with up to 4x within the realm of possibility. We know this because the number of deaths reported by opposition held municipalities that control 50% of the national population have independently reported a death count equal to the official death count for the entire nation. Furthermore, excess death statistics of Istanbul comparing this year’s number of burials to previous years’ confirms the same.

    Nevertheless, with this caveat, I prefer using IFR estimates from limited rigorous studies and then using the number of deaths from worldometer to estimate the total number of infections.

    World Health Organization Median IFR estimate: 0.23%

    Imperial College London IFR estimates:
    Low Income Countries: 0.22%
    Lower Middle Income Countries: 0.37%
    Upper Middle Income Countries: 0.57%
    High Income Countries: 1.06%

    Using the single overall WHO IFR estimate and the 1.65M total deaths across the world, we can divide 1.65M by 0.0023 to arrive at 717M total infections. 717M/7832M (world population) would give us a 9.15% world herd immunity rate estimate. (The same calculation can be made for individual countries using the segregated ICL estimates). This 9.15% must be taken as a minimum, due to underestimation of number of deaths, however it also has the baked-in assumption that every infected person is immune forever, which is not known yet. So you could for example double the number (taking Russia or Turkey as representative) and say 18.3% world herd immunity, and then perhaps adjust it downward a little for possibility of repeat infections. This approach is also in the ballpark of your 18% estimate.

    The most important takeaway is that herd immunity is absolutely out of reach, even with the most generous low herd immunity threshold and underreported deaths assumptions. Considering that vaxes are currently in existence, a large percentage of these deaths can be confirmed as criminal, as a rational policy of herd immunity would require both the assumption that suppressin is impossible, and that herd immunity would be reached prior to vaccination availability. Even allowing another 6-12 months of deaths to pile up at the current rate, which is a realistic timeframe for effective levels of vaccionation to take hold in the world population would not change the picture. The vast majority of people who died under explicit or implicit herd immunity and mitigation approaches were preventable deaths, they died for nothing. Suppression was the right policy choice and the handful of countries that achieved suppression have been vindicated.

  8. I am not a proponent of any herd immunity strategy (nor is, in fact, the Swedish government). However, it is absurd to from an estimate of global infection rates draw any conclusions regarding the viability of a heard immunity-strategy for an individual country or region. The rate of infections in say for example Africa or Latin America are of no importance whatsoever for any European country.

    Also, where do you get your IFR from? WHOs estimate is hardly reliable over time and space.

    1. I have cited a WHO bulletin suggesting a 0.23% global median IFR estimate.

      For Sweden we can instead use the ICL high income country IFR estimate of 1.06% and combine it with the 770 deaths / 1M population data on worldometer. This suggests a Sweden herd immunity level of 7%. For USA it is at 9%. The worst hit high income country, Belgium stands at 15%. Severely hit upper middle income Peru sits at 19% herd immunity according to this formula. There is not a single country in the world, no matter how hard hit by the virus and no matter which income bracket (a proxy for population age) that has come anywhere close to even the lowest herd immunity levels discussed. Not even halfway to the lowest levels discussed. The idea is absurd and completely invalidated.

      Country income brackets can be found here:

      1. Thanks, I saw your post just above mine now. To repeat myself, I am not a proponent of any specific strategy and think of myself as an agnostic when it comes to what works and what does not in dealing with the pandemic. Being a lay person in these matters, not reading mecial journals with my morning coffee, I have been somewhat perflexed by the lack of news reports on new estimates of the IFR (or country IFRs, as age stucture and general health and well-beining seems to matters a lot). For me it seems like like a very important estimate, much more so than the number of reported cases, that means compartively little in the grand scale of things, but it is rarely talked about anymore. At least not from where I get my news (and no, that is not Breitbart, Fox news, or The Sun).

    2. Little bit of a blind spot, Olle J. when you say “the rate of infections in say for example Africa or Latin America are of not importance whatsoever for any European country.” Uh…the rate of infection in Africa and Latin America is of critical importance given the migration of labor from those areas to countries like……Spain (but not only Spain), which the last time I checked was a European country…and is considered a major source of Europe’s second wave.

      So yeah, eliminating the infection in Latin America and Africa is just as important to EVERY European country as say, eliminating the infection in the US, or China, or the UK is to…………every Latin American and African country.

      Virus don’t play no border games.

      1. It is not a blind spot. I am just not making myself understood. If a country would have herd immunity as it’s strategy it is the level of herd immunity in that specific country that matters, not the global average. If levels of immunity in country A is at 80 per cent they can take in as many guest workers from country B with a immunity level of 10 per cent as they want, as people from country B do not constitute a risk for the health of the population of country A. It might however be a problem for country B, but that is hardly a concern for the goverment and health authorities of country A.

        In other words, a hypotetical global average of 18 per cent do not in itself tell us anything about the success or failure of the strategy of Sweden that Micahel Robert thinks it has.

  9. Hello Michael, I am writing to you from Uruguay.

    Here, after the electoral defeat of a tepidly reformist left government for 15 years, we now have a clearly bourgeois, pro-imperialist and repressive neoliberal government, and left reformism is now a weak “opposition of your Majesty” and nothing more. The pandemic is now arriving in force, delayed by low population density, the (still) quality of water, social inequality slightly lower than in the region, and a public health system that has resisted. But now it came in an exponential spread. In mid-October Uruguay entered the “yellow band” according to Harvard criteria, and just two months later in the “orange band”, and it continues. The right-wing government boasted in June that the “Uruguayan model” of “responsible freedom” had defeated the pandemic, and they wasted their time. To begin with, they approved in record time and in effect forcing the Constitution, an “omnibus law” with a whole repressive and privatizing program. Now, due to the pandemic and without addressing substantive solutions, and they now pass another new repressive law.

    What y send you below is a statement from one of the main social organizations in the country, the federation of cooperatives for mutual aid, which is a unique Uruguayan experience. It is an associative form of cooperative production, production of use value but not exchange values, because the houses are not destined for the market, they are owned by the cooperative and each family is a user of full rights, the contributions per nucleus family are in working hours and the hours are all counted equally regardless of the grade, but considerating male and female hours, etc. Of course, all of that has also been the victim of bureaucratization, covert marketing, and other plagues. However, something still remains. This statement is an exceptional case of a class platform in the face of the emergency, of course it has great deficiencies, and there are things that can be objected to. But I don’t know of many similar cases. After the statement I include the information that FUCVAM gives about itself.

    Again, congratulations on all your contributions. I try to spread them around here.


    The National Directorate of FUCVAM speaks out against the desired measures.

    – It was obvious – from the first moment – that Uruguay was not going to be able to escape from a pandemic that has manifested itself on a global scale.

    – Today the outbreak clearly shows that the entire armed story about Uruguay having controlled the pandemic fell and no one takes responsibility for the triumphalist speeches to which the public was subjected since the beginning of the pandemic.

    – The ads make it clear that the objective is still to favor big capital. In the framework of Regulation of article 38 of our constitution, the right of assembly will be limited, even reaching deterrence and the use of public force.

    We will not be able to meet as a family more than 10 people, but we will be able to go to the Shopping where it seems that the virus does not penetrate and more than one hundred people pass through in minutes.

    – The interdepartmental transport companies will be subsidiaries by cutting 50% of the capacity while in urban transport we will continue traveling overcrowded.

    We call on the general population to reflect on these contradictions that only disguise that the real losers in all this will continue to be the workers. For which among them the unemployed will not have a basic income as we have been proposing since the pandemic began.

    FUCVAM, as the organization responsible for the historical moment that we are living, calls on the population as a whole to propose a serious and real platform on how to combat the pandemic from the perspective of workers.

    1. The Ministry of Health of our country will have all the necessary resources provided by special items of the National Budget to supply hospitals and health centers with the missing supplies necessary for the care of the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), Dengue and Measles -such as chinstraps, etc.- and for the increase of specialized hospital beds, intensive therapy and / or isolation that

    they were necessary. Likewise, for the drastic expansion of the personal health plant throughout the system, in a paid manner and with the guarantees of the agreement.

    2. Free distribution to the population without resources of hygiene items, alcohol gel, disinfectants, chinstraps, latex gloves, soap and any medication that -by medical indication- is necessary to prevent and treat the pandemic. Provision of drinking water in all neighborhoods. Like we must add food baskets

    to contain the problems of the most deprived population. Structuring an effective coordination between Primary and MIDES.

    3. Prohibition of salary discounts or advance holidays for workers who, because they are part of risk groups, have accessed a leave in the context of the emergency. Freezing of rents and mortgage loan installments for six months and progressive taxes on large incomes and fortunes.

    4. State intervention, with the participation of the workers of the laboratories and companies that produce the different supplies mentioned in the INDISPENSABLE points TO COMBAT THE VIRUS, as well as respirators, virus detection tests and all the elements that are necessary for care health in the face of the pandemic.

    5. Allocation of basic income requested by INTERSOCIAL, retroactive to December 1, to all unemployed workers and members of the informal economy.

    6. Opening of books of all price-forming companies. State intervention in the main food production chains and essential health elements, under the control of workers’ committees to produce in all installed capacity and guarantee their commercialization at cost.

    7. Effective and paid license for people who must stay to care for their children and immediate punishment for companies and state entities that hinder its application. License for everyone who lives with a population at risk.

    8. Prohibition of dismissals and suspensions with salary reduction. The licenses for total or partial quarantine of the different economic activities will be in charge of the employer, private or state.

    9. Hygiene and safety elements for all public transport, sufficient units so that it does not travel with people standing still, nor with all seats occupied, tending to decrease the service based on the decrease in general activity.


    DECEMBER 17, 2020

    FUCVAM – Uruguayan Federation of Housing Cooperatives for Mutual Aid – Eduardo Víctor Haedo 2219 – Montevideo, Uruguay

    The Uruguayan Federation of Housing Cooperatives for Mutual Help (FUCVAM) is the largest, oldest and most active social movement working on housing and urban development issues in Uruguay. Thanks to its mutual aid model, the cooperatives affiliated to FUCVAM have offered and maintained high quality housing, offering an important solution for those who would not have been able to afford a decent home on the private market. Over time, FUCVAM has had a significant impact in terms of consolidating the right to housing and shaping the urban landscape of Montevideo and other Uruguayan cities. Long-term negotiations with public authorities have resulted in securing financial support and guaranteeing access to land to build. Currently, more than 650 cooperatives are federated to FUCVAM in Uruguay, representing approximately more than 35,000 families. The organization continues to work to organize, support, and train mutual aid housing cooperatives, as well as developing international collaborations. In 2001, the international work of FUCVAM was consolidated through the South-South Cooperation project in association with We Effect, with the aim of facilitating the transfer of FUCVAM’s mutual aid housing cooperative model to other countries. To date, FUCVAM has worked with local and resident organizations to adequately adapt the model to many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

    The Uruguayan Federation of Cooperatives for Mutual Help (FUCVAM) is a second-degree trade union organization, which was born in 1970 and groups together housing cooperatives whose fundamental and distinctive characteristics are the principles of being users, mutual aid and collective property. The FUCVAM proposal was born from Uruguayan workers who saw in this model a way to solve the housing issue for the most committed sectors of the country. This project has been developed for 46 years, more or less slowly, depending on the political decisions of the governments in power, but it has never ceased to be a hope for the most vulnerable citizens. It has faced the different proposals of the governments, always proposing alternatives based on the model and achievable for the workers. The fact that the active participation of the cooperative members, future users of the home, through direct self-management, is the basis of this model that creates ownership and empowerment, which is reflected in the subsequent maintenance of the complexes that is also carried out in collectively. It is the future users who, advised by the Technical Assistance Institutes, direct the work, administer and make the necessary decisions for it to be carried out successfully. This model is not only committed to the construction of homes but to the maintenance of the National Housing Fund, the only guarantee that the process continues and the model is a solution for more workers. FUCVAM was the winner of the 2012 first prize awarded by UN Habitat August 28, 2012. The Uruguayan Federation of Housing Cooperatives for Mutual Aid (FUCVAM), through its project “South-South Cooperation: projection of the experience of the FUCVAM Model of mutual aid housing cooperatives throughout Latin America ”, received the first prize of the Year 2012 from the award given by the UN through the BSHF (Foundation for Building and Social Housing). FUCVAM was selected first out of more than 400 finalist projects submitted by 200 countries around the world.


    Telephone: 2408 42 98

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