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COVID World Status Report: 2 – The Rest of Europe

By Neil Lock

Deaths per million (darker is higher)

This is the second in a series of status reports on the COVID situation as at May 23rd, 2022. This report covers Eastern Europe, and those parts of Western Europe which were not included in the first report on my “core 14” European countries.

Vaccinations

Here’s the list of percentages of the population fully vaccinated:

The figure for Gibraltar is clearly overstated; unless, perhaps, they have been vaccinating non-Gibraltarians who wish to enter Gibraltar. Otherwise, there is a general trend that the further south and east the country, the less of the population are vaccinated.

Lockdowns

Here are the graphs of lockdown stringencies over the course of the epidemic, and the current lockdown status, in each of three groups of countries:

The stand-out at the top (black line in the graph) is Ukraine, whose data, for obvious reasons, cannot be trusted at this time. Otherwise, the general downward trend in recent months is similar to the trend in the core of Europe. If anything, stringencies in this region now tend to be a bit lower than further west.

These countries are a bit of a mixed bag. There is a group that are unlocking quickly, and another group (Greece, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Croatia) that have chosen to leave lockdown stringencies relatively high.

With the exception of San Marino (black line) and Finland (grey), all the countries which are reporting stringency data are well on the way towards a complete unlock.

Here is the ordered list of stringencies throughout Europe, re-cast in the form of my “harshness” metric, which only includes mandates, and aims to assess lockdown levels in terms of their impact on the population:

Among the countries being considered here, Iceland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Norway, the Faeroes, Moldova, Liechtenstein and Finland now have no mandatory lockdown measures. At the other end of the scale, here are the lockdown mandates for the top four (excluding Ukraine):

CountryMeasures
GreeceWorkplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to 11-100, Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional), International: Screening, Face covering: Required in some places
KosovoSchools: Some closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled
San MarinoEvents: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10
CyprusGatherings: Up to >1000, International: Quarantine high-risk, Face covering: Required when with others

Cases

Here is the ordered list of cases per million throughout Europe:

The range is extreme, from more than 70% of the population diagnosed as cases in the Faeroe Islands, to under 10% in Albania, and only 3.6% for the Vatican.

And here is the same data, on a map:

Cases per million (darker is higher)

The further east you go, the lower the cases per million tend to become, except for Scandinavia and the Baltics.

Here are the daily cases per million spaghetti graphs:

All the countries’ case counts in this region seem now to be converging downwards. There have been brief recent sideways movements in Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and Latvia. Might these, perhaps, have been due to the arrival of the BA.2 variant, which is now dominant in much of Western Europe? But no-one in these countries seems to have been worrying much.

In this region, the trend is also towards zero. But there have been definite recent bumps in cases in Cyprus, Greece and Slovenia. And this, while the first two are among the hardest locked down countries in Europe!

As these are mainly small countries, their case counts per million do tend to be volatile. There has been a monster omicron wave in the Faeroe Islands, and smaller ones in Greenland, Andorra and Iceland. There have been more recent waves in Liechtenstein and the Isle of Man – likely due to BA.2, I’d guess. And cases are trending upwards again in Andorra and San Marino – could this perhaps be BA.5, as in Portugal?

Hospital Occupancy

Here are the graphs of hospital occupancy by COVID patients, for those countries which report this:

The top five here are all core 14 countries. To my eyes, there don’t seem to be any real concerns here in any of the countries outside that core 14.

Only two of the countries being considered here, Iceland and Malta, have increasing COVID hospital occupancy. And Iceland is coming up from a very low base. While Malta has not, in fact, reported any hospital occupancy data since the end of March, so the figure shown here is rather out of date.

Intensive Care Unit Occupancy

Here are the ICU occupancy graphs for those countries which report them:

Again, no real cause for concern, since Slovenia, the worst affected country in this group, has less than 7% of its ICU beds occupied by COVID patients.

Even better, no country outside the core 14 has ICU occupancy growing.

Deaths

Here is the ordered list of deaths per million:

Eastern Europe, particularly the southern countries there, has been one of the hardest hit areas in the world in terms of deaths per million. As of May 29th, eight of the top ten countries in COVID deaths per million are in this region.

Here is the same data, shown on a map:

Deaths per million (darker is higher)

You can clearly see the concentration of COVID deaths in the south-east of Europe. I am wondering whether latitude, and so climate, may affect the lethality of the virus? Or, perhaps, the degree (or not) of economic development?

Serbia, Kosovo and Albania seem to have performed better than others around them. As has Belarus. Albania and, even more, Kosovo have taken high lockdown strategies; but Serbia’s average lockdown has been relatively low. And Belarus’s has been minimalist. But when I checked these figures against the excess mortality figures, there were some big discrepancies. With the possible exception of Serbia, these data are not, I think, what they appear to be.

Next, deaths per case:

You have to hand it to those Nordics for exemplary performance against the virus! At the other end of the table, there is a concentration of deaths per case towards the south and east. Here is the same data, shown on a map:

Deaths per case (darker is higher)

This suggests a trend; from relatively good in the north and west, to relatively poor in the south and east. The very worst performers in deaths per case have been Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and North Macedonia, in that order. Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Romania and Hungary have also done quite poorly. This map also suggests that the UK and Belgium, and perhaps Spain, ought to have done better.

Another statistic to compare with cumulative deaths per million is average excess mortality over the course of the epidemic. Here’s the ordered list:

One difficulty here is that not all the countries which report excess mortality do so reliably. Some, notably Gibraltar and Belarus, stopped reporting excess mortality as soon as the going got tough. On the other hand, in the larger countries the mortality reporting is usually done by someone not directly connected to the COVID reporting, and may well be more trustworthy than the COVID reporting.

Let’s try putting these on a map…

Average excess mortality (darker is higher)

This shows a rather different picture from the deaths per million. There is still an increase in COVID deaths as you go south and east. But Albania and Kosovo, to name but two, have undercounted their COVID deaths. And, therefore, their cases too. And Belarus stopped reporting excess mortality in April 2021. Hmmm…

On a happier note, Ireland and Germany are added to the list of the “good guys,” with average excess mortality lower than about 5% over the epidemic.

To sum up

Eastern Europe, particularly in the south, has been one of the hardest hit areas in the world in terms of deaths per million. As of May 29th, eight of the top ten countries in COVID deaths per million are in this region. And the further south and east you go, the worse the performance tends to have been. Nevertheless, the epidemic now seems to be dying down almost everywhere in the region. (Russia, because of its huge size, may be an exception).

The effects of the BA.5 variant, currently growing in Portugal, are not visible yet outside the core of Europe, except possibly in Andorra and San Marino.

Some of the COVID deaths data doesn’t tally with the excess mortality data; notably in Albania and Kosovo. Not to mention Belarus. This effect, I expect, is likely to be worse outside Europe. And in those parts of the world (most of them) which can’t (or won’t) supply excess mortality data, I won’t have anything to cross-check the deaths figures against. Oh, well.

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