Which countries have performed the worst against the coronavirus?

a boat sails in front of the skyline of Doha, Qatar, one of the worst coronavirus countries in the world
Photo via Christine und Hagen Graf/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: June 9, 2021

Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, roughly 167 million cases and more than 3.4 million deaths have been reported just 15 months later. Some countries are obviously faring better than others in containing the virus—however, since early on, the U.S. has been leading the globe in both cases and deaths. But even the U.S. isn’t among the worst coronavirus countries when taking other statistics into consideration.

Obviously, there are a number of factors to look at here, such as testing discrepancies causing the number of cases and deaths to possibly be understated in some countries. It also makes sense that larger countries would tend to have higher numbers. Additionally, countries that have larger aging populations may be hit harder by COVID-19 due to the fact that older people succumb to the disease much more easily.

When examining the data, it helps to look at not just the total number of cases and deaths, but those numbers per 100,000 people in a country’s given population. While the U.S. has surpassed 589,000 COVID deaths, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the absolute worst in the world when it comes to other statistics (especially since life seems to be returning to normal in that country).

Johns Hopkins University publishes a running, live-updated tally of cases and deaths for most countries in the world. Cases have been reported on every continent, even Antarctica as of December 2020. There are also about 30 countries that have effectively “beaten” the virus.

A new variant of the virus was making the world nervous in early January, even though two of the coronavirus vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, still work against those variants (and all five vaccines in circulation around the globe drastically reduced deaths). It’s still not clear whether somebody who has already had the coronavirus can be reinfected by a variant, but if you have been infected, you’ll still need to get the vaccine to stay safe.

By late January, Mexico had become one of the deadlier countries in the world, and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had tested positive. Ten months into the pandemic, Ukraine was also badly struggling, though it wasn’t among the worst of the worst, and South Africa continued to struggle with the variant that originated in that country.

Meanwhile, Native Americans had been dying from COVID-19 at a rate nearly twice as high as those of white Americans.

In mid-April, an average of 3,000 people per day were dying in Brazil, and it had been labeled a “humanitarian catastrophe.” Meanwhile, India was sinking into COVID chaos with record numbers of daily new cases (though by June, those figures were beginning to drop).

The figures below are based on data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Again, it’s worth pointing out that the data is collected from many sources, some of which conflict. There are also significant differences in the ways that individual countries test for the virus and in the reporting of cases and deaths.

Here are some of the worst performing coronavirus countries, as of June 9.

Highest reported cases (in millions)

  1. United States 33.3
  2. India 29
  3. Brazil 17
  4. France 5.6
  5. Turkey 5.3
  6. Russia 5
  7. United Kingdom 4.5
  8. Italy 4.2
  9. Argentina 4
  10. German 3.7

Highest reported cases per 100,000 people

  1. Andorra 17,865
  2. Montenegro 16,049
  3. Czech Republic 15,559
  4. Bahrain 15,469
  5. San Marino 15,032
  6. Maldives 12,971
  7. Seychelles 12,769
  8. Gibraltar 12,765
  9. Slovenia 12,256
  10. Luxembourg 11,339

The U.S. ranks No. 14 with 10,174 cases per 100,000 people.

Highest reported deaths

  1. United States 598,000
  2. Brazil 476,000
  3. India 353,000
  4. Mexico 229,000
  5. Peru 187,000
  6. United Kingdom 127,000
  7. Italy 126,000
  8. Russia 122,000
  9. France 109,000
  10. Colombia 92,000

Highest reported deaths per 100,000 people

  1. Peru 576
  2. Hungary 306
  3. Bosnia-Herzegovina 287
  4. Czech Republic 283
  5. Gibraltar 279
  6. San Marino 266
  7. North Macedonia 262
  8. Montenegro 257
  9. Bulgaria 256
  10. Moldova 231

The U.S. ranks No. 21 with 182 deaths per 100,000 people.

Even though the U.S. doesn’t have the worst statistics in some of those categories, participants in a 13-country study completed by Pew Research says the U.S. has handled the coronavirus pandemic terribly and that their confidence in the country and President Trump is at an all-time low. So far, President Joe Biden seemingly has helped raise that confidence.

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Sources: CNN, The Guardian, New York Times, Johns Hopkins