Coronavirus

Why Have Belarus and Other Eastern European Countries Seen Relatively Few COVID-19 Deaths?

And is their luck running out?

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Belarus, whose autocratic president has barely acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic, let alone imposed a lockdown in response to it, nevertheless has seen fewer COVID-19 deaths per capita than most European countries. A recent BMJ article suggests several possible explanations, including the country's unpopularity as a vacation destination, high levels of testing in the early months of the epidemic, a large hospital capacity that made isolating COVID-19 patients easier, few nursing homes, and widespread voluntary precautions such as social distancing and mask wearing. While those hypotheses seem plausible, they do not necessarily explain trends in other Eastern European countries that, like Belarus, have seen relatively few COVID-19 deaths.

According to Worldometer's tallies, the current COVID-19 death rate in Belarus is 84 per 1 million people, less than one-tenth the rate in Belgium, about one-eighth the rate in Spain, and about one-seventh the rate in the U.K. But several other Central and Eastern European countries have similarly low rates, including Serbia (85 per million), Ukraine (83), Hungary (72), Slovenia (68) Croatia (62), Poland (61), the Czech Republic (49), and Estonia (48). Unlike Belarus, all of those countries imposed broad social and economic restrictions last spring in an attempt to reduce virus transmission.

Trends in newly identified COVID-19 cases vary widely among these countries:

• In Belarus, the seven-day average peaked in mid-May and has since fallen by 77 percent.

• In Serbia, there was an early peak in April, followed by a decline until early June, then an ascent to a new, higher peak in late July. Since then the seven-day average has fallen by 83 percent.

• Ukraine is seeing more daily new cases than ever before, following a rise that began in late July.

• In Hungary, daily new cases have risen more than 20-fold since late August.

• Slovenia has seen a sharp rise since mid-August, although not nearly as big as Hungary's.

• Croatia saw a similar upward trend until late August, when the average reached record levels. Daily new cases have fallen since then.

• In Poland, the seven-day average rose in July and August, fell in early September, and is now rising again, reaching record highs in the last few days.

• The Czech Republic saw a sharp rise in daily new cases to record levels this month, followed by a sharp drop in the last few days.

• In Estonia, daily new cases peaked in early April, fell into the single digits by early May, and have been climbing more or less steadily since late August.

COVID-19 death trends in these countries also vary widely. In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, and Poland, the seven-day average of daily deaths peaked in April. In Belarus and Serbia, that happened in early July. Deaths reached record highs in Ukraine and Croatia last week.

Several Eastern European countries have seen substantially more COVID-19 deaths per capita, including Bulgaria (110 per million residents), Bosnia and Herzegovina (237), and Romania (234). But so far they are still doing substantially better than wealthier Western European countries such as France, the U.K., Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands.

A preprint paper published in May argued that lower COVID-19 mortality in Eastern Europe might be explained by later introduction of the virus. "Countries in Europe which observed the earliest COVID-19 circulation suffered the worst consequences in terms of health outcomes, specifically mortality," Albanian public health researcher Alban Ylli and four co-authors wrote. "The drastic social isolation measures, undertaken especially in Eastern European countries, where community circulation started after March 11th, may have been timely. This may explain their significantly lower COVID-related mortality compared with the Western European countries."

In an essay published last Friday on The Conversation, University of Cambridge sociologist Olga Löblová and two co-authors worry that recent trends suggest Eastern Europe's luck is running out: "Central and eastern Europe managed the first wave of COVID-19 in the spring well—to general surprise—but governments have since struggled. They have found it politically difficult to reintroduce restrictions after months of letting their populations live normally."

That hypothesis is consistent with the declines in daily new cases that some of these countries saw in the spring and the increases some have seen this summer. But it seems inconsistent with the experience in Belarus, which never had a lockdown but still has a relatively low fatality rate and has not seen recent increases in cases and deaths like those in Hungary, Ukraine, Croatia, and the Czech Republic. It also seems inconsistent with the findings of a recent study that looked at COVID-19 trends in 23 countries and 25 U.S. states that had seen more than 1,000 deaths from the disease by late July. UCLA economist Andrew Atkeson and his two co-authors found little evidence that variations in government policy account for the course of the epidemic in different places.

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  1. Maybe they just don’t lie about deaths by covid since there is no financial incentive to do so.

    1. Someone is about to be diagnosed with a pre-existing condition…

      1. If you’re implying he’s nuts, that’s funny.

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  2. Vodka and sauna are the key to a healthy life imo

    1. Eastern European women give you an increased will to live.

    2. That must be why Russia’s life expectancy is 6 years lower than the US.

      1. thats the communism.

  3. Gee, you’re telling me that totalitarian bastards aren’t likely to tell you the real effects of their policies?

    This is my shocked face.

    I do like how it appears that people believe their numbers, which makes me wonder how North Korea is doing. I imagine they are immune to COVID, if they are to be believed.

    Also I imagine that poor as fuck former Soviet nations might not have the time, energy, or cash to bother with the flu the same way that a 1st world Karen-run nanny-state would. If you might starve to death, as an example, who gives a fuck about a 2 or 3 percent mortality rate. It’s not even on your radar.

    1. With the exception of Belarus, I believe all of those Central and Eastern European countries have democratically elected governments. As for your other comment, alcoholism is probably responsible for more deaths than COVID-19 in those countries.

      1. Yes, but they also have their fair share of corruption and aren’t likely to give much of a fuck in measuring or quantifying COVID. They have bigger problems, especially the Ukraine where ‘bullet’ or ‘rocket’ probably beats COVID hands down.

        I’m not saying they’re the worst places on earth, which could be implied from my North Korea comment, but rather that some of them may have more pressing concerns than a disease with a fairly low mortality rate in the general populace.

        1. but rather that some of them may have more pressing concerns than a disease with a fairly low mortality rate in the general populace.

          Check out Hitler McWhiteSupremacist over here.

    2. Also I imagine that poor as fuck former Soviet nations might not have the time, energy, or cash to bother with the flu the same way that a 1st world Karen-run nanny-state would.

      This is more likely the reality.

      In addition, why are we still countin COVID deaths? My understanding is we only count ‘standard flu’ deaths for a season, then we start anew in the new season. If we continued to count flu deaths forever and ever, amen, we’d be to the tens of millions by now.

      1. That’s different.
        For instance, you don’t need a “cloth face covering” for the flu.

        1. If everyone wore a “cloth face covering” during flu season, there’d be a lot less flu.

          1. There is no reason to think that is true.

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      2. They also tend to have fairly restricted immigration

  4. Maybe they haven’t incentivised the reporting of any death-while-testing-positive as a COVID death.

    1. Quite the opposite. See my comment below. While lower mortality rate due to COVID in Eastern Europe might be interesting, Belarus should not even be on the list.
      It ain’t bad COVID wise out there, believe me. The hospitals were not really overwhelmed, people walking freely without masks (like 5% are wearing masks probably), no social distancing. Belarus doesn’t have as many old or fat people as the US does though, so that may be a big factor. The main problem however is that the government ended up lying about COVID cases and deaths big time.

      1. “believe me”

        Nope.

  5. Iirc, some of them were not going out of their way to test exactly why the newly deceased died. The state CDC did something not dissimilar during H1N1. They reported all flu deaths as that strain when initial testing showed most of the deaths were from other flu strains. So I was told when I worked there.

  6. I fail to see what Dr. Phil has to do with any of this.

  7. I can solve the mystery. I was evacuated from Ukraine in March when they had a total of 7 cases. As a former socialist country, there is a lot of community isolation because cars are scarce and people tend not to travel and stay in their own neighborhoods. The Soviets didn’t like the idea of people moving about freely and made sure that everything they needed for a good Soviet live was within walking distance.

    I lived in a community that was like a Twilight Zone town, one that was just taken and placed in the middle of farm fields. I’ve visited several others that were like that. The Soviets built it because there was a mine there and they wanted people to live close to the mine so they could work it. The town was build in 1962 and it has a main street (Victory Avenue) that runs for three large blocks. There are a few side streets. It starts at the river (or what was left of the river after the Soviets were done with it) and ended at the railroad station. We could walk it in 20 minutes. It was an hour and a half bus ride past farms and mines to the city center and people very seldom went there. Certainly people from the main part of the city of Kryvyi Rih never went to out part of town.

    The neighborhoods are set up with many small stores so that no one has to go far to get things. Since people all walk, it makes sense since you have no way to get things home except by carrying them. Old women from the villages sit along sidewalks selling all kinds of goods from their gardens and small farms. Every few apartment buildings has a post office, a school and a kindergarten which is how the Soviets set up towns. There is also an art school, a music school and the palace of sports (which has an indoor pool) and a palace of culture (which has a movie theatre). No one ever needs to leave their small community and no one really wants to.

    1. That actually sounds kind of nice.

      1. It was. I really miss living there but there were trade offs like you have to live in Soviet buildings, deal with Soviet-style corruption and infrastructure like central heating which is not the same as what we call central heating- the city literally turned the heat on and off for the whole city every year.

        But people were always out and about and when there was a concert (much different from idea of concert) everyone was there. Kids played outside in the courtyards and the numerous playgrounds. There were flowers and veggie gardens everywhere. They give flowers all the time too and they love their cookies and tea. Kids went to the same school for 11 years and share a desk with the same person and it often felt like family (I worked in a school). I could have lived the rest of my live there happily but I’m old and it didn’t bother me that it was so old fashioned.

  8. There is a more plausible explanation: officially reported death numbers are a lie. Belarusian authorities made a mistake of releasing the total deaths by month for 2020 to the UN. You can compare 2019 and 2020 here http://data.un.org/Data.aspx?q=deaths+by+month&d=POP&f=tableCode%3a65%3bcountryCode%3a112%3brefYear%3a2019%2c2020&c=2,3,6,8,10,12,13,14&s=_countryEnglishNameOrderBy:asc,refYear:desc,areaCode:asc&v=1
    In short there were +3753 excess deaths in June, +1309 in May, +543 in April. This makes the real death rate be 14 times higher than the officially reported covid deaths (398 dead as of June 30). Of course some of the excess deaths could be caused by something other than covid but very likely the covid deaths were heavily underreported. So there you have it.

    The takeaway: don’t trust anything said by an authoritarian regime.

    1. This explanation makes too much sense and doesn’t play into domestic (USA) partisan conspiracy theories.

      HE’S A WITCH!!! BURN HIM!!!

    2. This is what’s happening. Russia recorded 30,000 excess deaths in July – 181,000 v the normal seasonal 150,000. That’s about 5x times more than the 6000 reported covid deaths. You can even see the steady rise in excess deaths since Mar/Apr – but hey no covid here move along now.

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