Updated May 21, 2020
On December 31, 2019, China reported to the WHO several cases of pneumonia of unknown origin in Wuhan, Hubei province. A week later, on January 7, officials determined that these cases were caused by a novel coronavirus. The virus spread very rapidly, first within Wuhan and Hubei province, then to the rest of China. By the end of January, China already had nearly 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. By the end of February, nearly 80,000 were affected.
But how did COVID-19 spread outside of China? The first case was confirmed in Thailand on January 13, and other cases were reported soon after in Korea and Taiwan. In the Americas, the coronavirus arrived in the US on January 15, 2020, when a person who had visited Wuhan returned home to Washington State and was confirmed positive on January 20. In Europe, coronavirus arrived via France, which got its two first confirmed cases on January 22. Italy, the hardest hit country in terms of loss of life, only reported its first case on January 31st. Since then the virus has been spreading like wildfire. Just how rapidly did it spread? Here is a graph that shows the evolution of confirmed cases day by day for the 15 countries with the highest numbers other than China.
Latin America in the Time of Coronavirus
When did the virus reach our region? The first case was confirmed in Brazil, on February 26. This means, the virus reached our shores (or at least, was identified) more than one month after it reached Europe and the US. This delay is a blessing, since it provides government authorities, as well as the population, more time to take remedial measures, and be prepared for what is to come.
How fast is the virus spreading in Latin America? Here is a graph of the spread in our region.
Fatalities Rather Than Cases: A More Reliable Indicator?
While people have tended to focus on confirmed cases when looking at COVID-19, there are reasons to believe that this measure greatly underestimates the spread of the virus. The degree to which it underestimates it will depend on a number of factors that vary from country to country, as well as some that vary over time. Availability of testing is an obvious determinant of confirmed cases. If a country has a limited supply of test kits, the number of cases will be underestimated. As more tests become available, the number of confirmed cases may increase rapidly. COVID-19 related deaths, on the other hand, are measured more precisely. The following graph shows the evolution of COVID-19 related deaths in the world, as well as in Latin America.
Deaths per million people
Naturally, to look at the incidence of COVID-19 across countries, it does not make much sense to compare the number of cases in Brazil, with a population of more than 200 million, to those in Belize, with less than 400,000. In the graphs that follow, we show the evolution of number of deaths per million people instead, for the world as well as Latin America. For the case of the world, we limited the sample to countries with population greater than 250,000.