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Why is Italy’s COVID-19 mortality rate at 14% while South Korea’s is at 2%?

  • A country with an older, sicker population will have a higher mortality rate
  • The availability of testing also has an effect
  • South Korea was quick to isolate those who were discovered to be sick

There are many factors that can affect a country’s COVID-19 mortality rate, and the rates vary widely between countries. While Italy’s mortality rate is 14%, South Korea’s is only 2%. Experts are trying to understand the difference so they can learn how to better manage the spread of COVID-19.

One factor that can affect the fatality rate is the health of a country’s population. There are a few different risk factors, including older age and pre-existing health conditions, that make certain demographics more susceptible to COVID-19. A country that has an older, sicker population is more likely to have a higher fatality rate than a younger, healthier country.

Another factor that affects the mortality rate is the availability of testing and healthcare resources. Countries with more healthcare resources readily available are likely to have lower fatality rates than countries that don’t have adequate resources. Additionally, when more citizens are tested, cases are identified quicker, and those who test positive can isolate and slow the spread of the virus.

Other factors that can affect the fatality rate include how quickly a country institutes effective, widespread preventative measures and how forthcoming a country is with data. Countries that implemented effective preventative measures like social distancing early on are likely to have lower infection and fatality rates than countries that waited to take action.

Taking these factors into consideration, experts can see why Italy has a much higher fatality rate compared to South Korea. Italy has one of the oldest populations in the world, which makes its population more susceptible to COVID-19 fatalities. Additionally, Italy was relatively slow to implement widespread testing for COVID-19, which allowed people to pass the virus along unknowingly.

In contrast to Italy, South Korea’s response has been applauded by experts as swift and effective. South Korea was quick to test large quantities of its population and isolate those who tested positive. South Korea was also quick to implement contact tracing, and those who were at-risk were quarantined earlier. However, the South Korean government utilized GPS technology to trace citizens’ whereabouts and contacts, and this move has been criticized over privacy concerns.

The United States’ fatality rate lies somewhere in the middle at about 6%. Like Italy, the U.S. was slow to start testing citizens and order preventative measures like social distancing. Social distancing policies vary widely by state, which can decrease the effectiveness of those policies, and lead to variations in fatality rates by state.

Sources: Vox, NPR, Science Magazine, BBC, The World Bank


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