Tracking the Pandemic in MotionBoard
As we wrote in our last post, there have been some great data visualisations and dashboards built to track the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
We're adding one to the mix.
You can explore our interactive COVID-19 MotionBoard dashboard here, or read on for some of our insights and observations.
We're currently sourcing data for our dashboard from the European Centre for Disease Control. This EU agency publishes the latest global figures on a daily basis, and our dashboard updates automatically shortly after they release the latest data files around 1PM CET each day (that's 11PM here in Australia).
Visualising the Global Status
Our dashboard includes maps where you can see the global spread of confirmed cases and fatalities, such as this one, which shows the cases by country, adjusted for population:
How Deadly Is COVID-19?
While we have included crude case fatality rates on our dashboards, these numbers are necessarily incomplete, and will continue to change as the situation develops. The global rate, based on current confirmed case and fatality numbers, is hovering just under 5%, but the true fatality rate is likely to be much lower (although nowhere near as low as seasonal flu, which thanks to widespread availability of immunisations and existing immunity in the community, is closer to 0.1% in most developed countries).
The fatality rate is partly inaccurate because of a lack of testing. With a global shortage of testing kits, most countries have restricted testing to specific subsets of the population (here in Australia, for example, tests have so far been limited to symptomatic individuals who had recently returned from overseas or had close contact with a confirmed case). That means for most countries the “true” number of cases is likely to be much higher than reflected in official reports.
On the other hand, the crude case fatality rate does not take into account individuals who are already infected who will go on to die. Data from a recent study published in Lancet Infectious Diseases suggested that for patients who die the average time from onset of symptoms to death is around 18 days, so we know the number of deaths for each country will (inevitably) sadly rise.
Looking at the fatality rates in individual countries, you'll notice there's a huge disparity at the moment. Those at the higher end of the scale are mostly there because of a relatively small number of cases and deaths reported so far. For example, at the time of writing Zimbabwe shows a 21.43% crude fatality rate based on 14 confirmed cases and 3 deaths. The true fatality rate will clearly be much lower as testing increases and COVID-19 spreads there.
On the other hand, countries such as Italy (12.73%) and Spain (10.22%) show high fatality rates for different reasons. Differences can partly be explained by age demographics, since the fatality rate seems to be much higher amongst older patients. In addition, we've all heard of the importance of flattening the curve through social distancing and lockdowns, and this is because no health system in the world can cope with an exponential increase in cases requiring hospitalisation all at the same time. When that happens, medical staff have to make difficult decisions about who gets access to ICU beds and ventilators, and who doesn‘t. This situation, inevitably, will see higher fatality rates as there will be many more otherwise potentially avoidable deaths included in the totals.
What Lies Ahead For the Global Hotspots?
We have also included some charts to help you compare the status in different countries. For example, below we look at the trajectories of some of the global hotspots.
In this chart we‘ve normalised the x-axis to show the progress of each country starting from the day it announced its hundredth case. Looking at confirmed fatalities, we can see that the US has now overtaken Italy to become the worst hit country in the world, while Spain, the UK and France are following similar trajectories to Italy.
You can use the drop-downs to select different countries to compare:
The Importance of Testing
It is important to remember that high case numbers do not necessarily mean a country is losing the battle against COVID-19. In some countries high case numbers simply reflect more extensive testing. The more tests you do, the more cases you will report.
For a look at the difference testing can make, compare the fortunes of Italy and Germany. Germany is widely regarded to have one of the most comprehensive testing regimes in the world, with extensive contact tracing and isolation processes in place. While its case numbers are tracking almost exactly the same path that Italy tracked at the same stage in the spread there, there is a stark difference in the number of fatalities: