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.
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