Infection rate ‘dramatically understated’: researchers

The true number of infected people may already have reached tens of millions.

testing rates

The number of confirmed cases for COVID-19 that are officially spruiked each day by governments across the world dramatically understate the true number of infections, say researchers.

Dr Christian Bommer and Professor Sebastian Vollmer from Göttingen University in Germany used estimates of COVID-19 mortality and time until death from a recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases to test the accuracy of official records.

They say their data shows that countries have discovered, on average, only about six per cent of coronavirus infections and that the true number of infected people worldwide may already have reached several tens of millions.

A report on Global Health says that insufficient and delayed testing may explain why some European countries, such as Italy and Spain, experienced much higher casualty numbers (relative to reported confirmed cases) than Germany. Germany had detected an estimated infection rate of 15.6 per cent compared to only 3.5 per cent in Italy or 1.7 per cent in Spain at the end of March. Detection rates at that time were even lower in the US (1.6 per cent) and the UK (1.2 per cent) – countries that have been widely criticised for their delayed response to the pandemic.

The authors estimated that on 31 March, Germany had 460,000 infections. Based on the same method, they calculated that the US had more than 10 million, Spain more than five million, Italy around three million and the UK around two million infections. On the same day, Johns Hopkins University reported that globally there were fewer than 900,000 confirmed cases, meaning that the vast majority of infections were undetected.

According to Statistica, the US had conducted just 125 tests per million inhabitants by mid-March compared to 5567 tests per million people in South Korea and 2514 per million in Italy. The US has increased its testing – to 6292 per million according to the data published by Worldometers – but still lags behind other countries.

The US leads the infections list with 426,300 and is third on total deaths with 14,622, behind Italy (17,669) and Spain (14,792). Australia sits at No.22 on Worldometers’ list of infections with 6013 and 50 deaths. Interestingly, the cruise ship Diamond Princess was given its own listing with 712 cases and 11 deaths.

Australia’s testing rate was 12,512 per million – 18th on a very exhaustive list topped by Bahrain, Malta, Liechtenstein and the UAE.

Prof. Vollmer said of the broadcasted confirmed cases: “These results mean that governments and policy-makers need to exercise extreme caution when interpreting case numbers for planning purposes.

“Such extreme differences in the amount and quality of testing carried out in different countries mean that official case records are largely uninformative and do not provide helpful information.”

Dr Bommer added that major improvements in the ability of countries to detect new infections and contain the virus were urgently needed.

Do you believe the infection rate is widely under-reported?

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    COMMENTS

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    older&wiser
    9th Apr 2020
    11:08am
    I am not surprised. I have said this from the start. Countries, governments, authorities, etc will definitely down play the numbers affected, but over inflate figures of recovery. If anyone believes that China has had only around 3,000 deaths must still believe the earth is flat.
    A friend is a high level nurse. She too believes deaths are much higher. Eg - a patient comes in who has had long time cardiac condition. Get the virus and pass away. But death certificate will state cardiac as cause of death.
    If anything, there is an overload of information out there. It's working through it all that causes more of a headache.
    Tis only me
    9th Apr 2020
    11:41am
    I agree older & wiser. Without testing everyone (and that's impossible under current conditions) we've no idea how many people actually have or have had the virus with mild or no symptoms. I'm highly suspicious of the figures from just about everywhere, including Australia. Despite the 'advantage' we have of being an island nation.
    And the notion that is constantly being fed to us that there's no need to don a mask, well.....one can find numerous scientific studies from the past 100 years that suggest even a basic mask can help to lower infection rates - okay based on other flu viruses, but lessons surely learned. 'My mask protects you, your mask protects me."
    I feel so much for your friend. I have a relative who is a nurse too. They are struggling, they are tired, they are frustrated.
    veepee
    9th Apr 2020
    1:51pm
    Definitely the case that numbers are many times higher than reported - lack of testing has been obvious in many countries, especially in SE Asia. I don't think there is a conspiracy here - lack of or belated information from China meant that scientists had no clue as to how serious virus was. Most countries were very blase in their approach at first. As for your conspiracy theory, The Thinker, it shows no logic and absolutely no understanding of what the article has said about the relationship between death rates and testing. The virus is doing enough damage and causing enough alarm without creating some ridiculour conspiracy theory.
    Laura52
    9th Apr 2020
    2:12pm
    I also agree with all of you....mainly I feel to prevent mass panic and the actual truth on how the virus came to be. Regarding masks, as having worked in a sterile pharmacy room for a while, I was taught that masks provide a barrier and minimises contamination to the intravenous products that I compounded, as well as constant changing of gloves ( of course we wore gowns, sterile hats etc). The answer to masks is....lack of supply of at the moment for health professionals and that is why the public is asked not to buy masks etc. Defeats the purpose really as an asymptomatic person can be a carrier. I wear a mask at work because I treat myself and everyone as a carrier of this disease.
    Horace Cope
    9th Apr 2020
    11:10am
    "Do you believe the infection rate is widely under-reported?"

    This question really needs to be split into two parts: is the under-reporting because governments are hiding information or are governments unable to test people because of a lack of test kits.

    However, in saying that I question the need to have an article which has little to no bearing on Australia. Our borders are closed apart from Australian citizens returning home and reports are given out each morning by various leaders at both federal and state level. Australia has acted quicker than most other countries, has the added advantage of being an island which is ideal for sealing borders and has a very low rate of infection.
    Russell
    9th Apr 2020
    12:03pm
    Yes, I believe that the infection rate is widely under-reported by the governments
    There are several issues with the under-reporting and they are that the governments do not want the public to know the true figures to avoid panic, but there is another under-reporting and the government has no control of this and that is the number of people that get infected and DO NOT go and get tested and fight it off as just the flu and those people do not get registered in the system so there numbers are not included. At present I am in Thailand and I know that there are many elderly people that live in remote villages that would not travel to the big towns to get tested and it would be the same in Australia where there are many people live on farms and in small towns that would not go to the large towns except for shopping which is when they would pick the virus up but they would not go back to a large town to be tested but stay at the farm or small town and maybe even infect more people who would stay at home and fight it off as just the normal flu. No country or government would ever be able to give the true and accurate figures for this
    Horace Cope
    9th Apr 2020
    12:23pm
    I agree Russell but it has just come to mind that there is a group that doesn't show any symptoms and, unless tested, will probably never know that they have had COVID-19 nor will they ever know how many they have infected.
    Arvo
    9th Apr 2020
    12:45pm
    and, then there are the anti-vaxxers...who will die of the virus sooner or later or will recklessly spread the virus ....
    veepee
    9th Apr 2020
    1:56pm
    Agree Arvo - they are coming up with ridiculous claims based on theories which have been dubunked 100 years ago. Those without the education or capacity to research for themselves believe them, sadly - causes people to ignore advice. No government is perfect and there have been some missteps in Australia, but I do think that our scientists and epidemiologists and doctors are basing their deductions on the best evidence available, and our governments, fed and state, are listening.
    Laura52
    9th Apr 2020
    2:16pm
    Arvo...It would really be interesting to hear an antivaxxers opinion on this...so far I have heard none....
    101
    14th Apr 2020
    11:01am
    FYI, to date there is NO Vaccine.
    Karen
    9th Apr 2020
    11:19am
    With the advent of far many more test kits, it is inevitable that a 'spike' will appear to have arisen for the simple reason that more are being tested ..... it will flatten out again.
    adbob
    9th Apr 2020
    11:52am
    I would say that all the data is inherently suspect - for the most part we don't even know where it comes from or how it is collated - certainly not all the same across different countries.

    As far as deaths go we do know that some hospitals/countries etc record a death as COVID caused even when the victim was on death's door anyway and the virus was just the last straw - others only attribute death to the virus if it was the *main* cause. Nobody tells us which is which. The media have in general been appalling in reporting whatever comes in and gives them a few free column inches. There's plenty of digging and investigation to do but nobody does it.

    Try reading the foreign press and the pharmaceutical trade publications through Google - you get a completely different story. I was looking at an article in an Indian business magazine about foreign leaders (Trump was one obviously) calling Modi (Indian PM) to get him to lift the export ban on hydroxychloroquine. One name that I recognised was one Scott Morrison - I didn't read about that here though - needed to make up for all the stuff our medical profession (incuding dentists!) have prescribed for themselves - while the rest of us are fed spin about how it's dangerous and might not work. Trump said it might - so that's an easy sell - although Trump was really only quoting Didier Raoult, one of the world's leading virologist - so they don't mention his name - except in France they do.

    Also the stuff about masks - which work for medics but somehow not for anyone else.

    So much lies and spin about it's hard to know what to believe.
    Arvo
    9th Apr 2020
    12:48pm
    there is no way China had only 3,000 deaths....the virus , the lies, the cover ups of despicable communists.
    Laura52
    9th Apr 2020
    2:14pm
    Adbob...I made a comment about masks to older and wiser's psot...on point on what you said. So much confusion is circulating at the moment.
    BigAl
    9th Apr 2020
    12:37pm
    Based on a discovery rate of 6% as suggested in the above article, 100 867 Australian have been infected with Covid 19 with a mortality rate (50 deaths) of only 0.05%. I am sure that a large number of Australians are asymptomatic or had mild symptoms which would not be sufficient to go to a doctor or hospital. Anyone who has done basic statistics would know that the sampling rate is too low to give an accurate indication of what is happening. The sampling rate would need to be raised 10 fold using a stratified sampling procedure. Rapid testing is a game changer as to give clear picture as well as isolating those recently infected and those who have already developed antibodies.
    dstark
    9th Apr 2020
    2:06pm
    Those who advocate increased testing for Covit-19 may not be aware that testing is only effective if symptoms are present. Testing someone who does not display symptoms of could result in a false negative result, thereby misleading those tested into thinking they are free of the virus.
    Horace Cope
    9th Apr 2020
    2:38pm
    A recent Icelandic study also showed that around 50% of those who tested positive to COVID-19 in a large-scale testing exercise were asymptomatic.
    almost a grey hair
    9th Apr 2020
    4:19pm
    For months now we have been told that there is no need to wear a mask, this is for the simple reason that their were none.
    Now that a 747 freighter has arrived in Sydney with medical supplies including tonnes of masks there is no doubt that we will now be told that masks are beneficial.
    Basically if the rest of the world are wearing them shouldn't we have been wearing them. In China they were chaining people together found in the street without them.So who is trying to bullshit who, this is just another way of manipulating populations. SLO MO missed the boat altogether.
    older&wiser
    9th Apr 2020
    5:16pm
    Almost a grey - not quite correct. The masks that came in last night are specifically aimed for medical and first line personnel - NOT the general public. I would much rather those that NEED a mask - medical staff, police, doctors, paramedics, etc - get a mask, than those that just want one.
    KSS
    9th Apr 2020
    4:46pm
    And your point YLC?
    More scare mongering?

    Given that some people show no symptoms and testing to date has largely rested on symptomatic presentations coupled with overseas travel, it is very likely that there are more infections than have been notified to date. This is why social distancing and self isolation are so important. We simply cannot do population testing. It is no more realistic for Australia to test all 25 million people than it would be for the UK or USA to test all theirs.
    Australia is already testing at a higher rate than most other countries and yet we still have lower infection rates.
    FGS stop trying to incite further fear with this sensationalist 'reporting'.
    KSS
    9th Apr 2020
    4:48pm
    And just for good measure, if the infection rate is much higher, the death rate would be far lower and recovery rates far higher.
    Eddy
    9th Apr 2020
    5:01pm
    Some of these conspiracy theories would be laughable if Covid-19 was not so serious. I am not a virologist or have any qualifications in health sciences, I an an engineer but I can read learned papers and understand some of what I read. The family of corona virus has been around for a long time but mainly confined to animals. In fact a common canine corona virus has been in our dog population for doggie generations, it causes a mild flu like sickness but is rarely fatal. This virus, aka Covid-19, appears to have been transferred from bats to humans by a means which is little understood, nevertheless the transfer of virus from one species to another is not uncommon. This transfer could have happened anywhere in the world where the host animal is found, we have bats in Australia. Pointing the finger of blame to any country is not valid, just because it was first noticed an Chins does not mean that that is the origin, science simply does not know when or where that transfer took place.
    If we look at the HIV virus it was first identified in humans in the 1930s but it was not until the 1960s that anyone was worried about HIV, the transmission through body fluid transfer kept it in check. Where the initial transfer to humans first took place is only speculative, but one theory for it's rapid spread in the 1980s was that HIV was spread by the polio vaccine, a theory that has been completely debunked.
    It is pointless trying to attribute blame to anyone or any nation, it happened, as the same thing has happened countless times before.
    Maggie
    9th Apr 2020
    6:31pm
    Thank you Vee Pee for your considered and thoughtful response to TheThinker's nasty suggestion that this virus was spread on purpose and that it is a gene seeking monster. People might well read racism.into this
    Times are difficult enough without sowing more seeds of fear and worry than already exist.
    Maggie
    9th Apr 2020
    6:31pm
    Thank you Vee Pee for your considered and thoughtful response to TheThinker's nasty suggestion that this virus was spread on purpose and that it is a gene seeking monster. People might well read racism.into this
    Times are difficult enough without sowing more seeds of fear and worry than already exist.
    Franky
    12th Apr 2020
    11:20am
    We will never know the exact number of people infected and dying from Covid19. I have it from good authority that many deaths that have nothing to do with Covid19 are nevertheless counted as Covid19 caused deaths. However one thing nobody is disputing that the death rate of around 1-2% is miniscule compared with past events like the Spanish flu or the plague where arround 50-70% of those infected died. This makes me very suspicious of what the real reason is behind the current hype of covid 19. There are many theories out there if you choose to search from some very credible and some not so credible sources but only time will tell....
    101
    14th Apr 2020
    5:23pm
    Perhaps you need to do a refresher on basic maths.
    The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims. That puts the death rate at between 4% to 10%.


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