Aug 16, 2020 - World

The U.S. is far behind other rich countries in coronavirus response

Data: WHO; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Over the past several weeks, the coronavirus has killed Americans at six times the average rate in other rich countries. And we’re recording about eight times more infections.

Why it matters: The virus burned through the rich world like wildfire in the spring, but this new data confirms that the U.S. is one of very few wealthy countries that have failed to suppress it since then.

Breaking it down: The World Bank’s list of “high-income economies” includes 83 countries and territories, ranging from Austria to Bermuda to Chile. Their populations add up to 907 million — 2.7 times America’s.

  • As of July 1, they’d collectively recorded virtually the same number of cases as the U.S., and 1.6 times as many deaths.
  • Since then, however, 75% of all new cases and 69% of all deaths recorded anywhere in the rich world came in the U.S., which accounts for 27% of the group's population.
  • The U.S. is conducting more testing than many other countries. But that's only a small part of the story.

How it happened: Other rich countries saw pandemic peaks that were just as terrifying as America’s. But while they climbed down afterwards, the U.S. remained trapped near the summit.

  • Italy, for example, had recorded 34,767 deaths as of July 1 but has seen just 458 since.
  • The story is similar in other European countries that had devastating first waves. Despite occasional flare-ups, the current numbers hardly register compared to those we saw in the spring. 
  • That's also true of some parts of the U.S., like New York, but certainly not of the country as a whole.

The other side: A few high-income countries in Latin America and the Middle East — Chile, Panama, Israel, Oman — have actually seen sharper increases in cases and deaths than the U.S. this summer.

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
  • Others that managed to avoid large initial outbreaks, like Australia or Hong Kong, have seen their caseloads multiply far more quickly than America's — but from low starting points.
  • Even some countries that have seen dramatic improvements since the spring, like Spain, are now responding to worrying hotspots.
  • America remains an exception in that it was hit so hard so early, and has never truly recovered.

Where things stand: Daily case counts in U.S. have declined recently, but are still the second-highest in the world, behind India. Of the 10 countries currently recording the highest daily caseloads, the U.S. is the only high-income country.

Editor's note: Our data excludes three high-income economies with very small populations — Channel Islands, Nauru and Palau — for which the WHO does not list COVID-19 data.

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