We know a little bit about the physical spread of COVID-19.
We understand, for example, that it prefers enclosed spaces and temperate temperatures, and some people appear particularly susceptible. Yet COVID is, above all, a social disease, so what can we say about the way it seems to target particular societies? What features do some countries have that might explain why they have been wracked by the virus, while others have escaped seemingly unscathed?
As the third wave of the virus surges through the world, we can see some features seem to make particular nations more susceptible to the virus than others.
Firstly, and for whatever reason, Johns Hopkins University data suggests island nations appear to have some advantage over landlocked ones. Taiwan - offshore from the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak - attributes just seven deaths to the virus. New Zealand lost 25 people; Singapore, 29; and Australia 909. A similar low number of total fatalities is reflected in the Caribbean and Pacific, suggesting that being encircled by water is a major advantage in evading the virus. Even just having water on three sides has enabled Qatar to escape with 248 deaths, or 8.9 per million. Adjoining Saudi Arabia suffered 6335 losses; 18.8 per million.
Surprisingly, perhaps, proximity to China doesn't seem to matter. Only 35 deaths in Vietnam were COVID-related; 164 in Hong Kong. Mongolia still claims only two dead and, although that may undercount, there's no reason to doubt the main point: something distinct and cultural is at work protecting such countries. Nor is there any necessary correlation with "normal" mortality rates from other causes. CIA numbers assert Bangladesh has a usual mortality rate of 14.52 per 1000, but attributes 7942 deaths to the pandemic, a far smaller per-capita death rate than the Philippines, with 9978 (normal mortality six).
Business data platform Statista offers other insights. The five worst-affected countries in terms of total deaths are, in order, the US, Brazil, India, Mexico and the UK. All also have - or had, in the case of the US - popular demagogic leaders who downplayed the threat. Interestingly this directly corresponds to four of the five countries with the largest Facebook audiences: India, the US, (Indonesia), Brazil and Mexico. Britain comes in 12th, with the greatest number of users of any country in Europe. Similarly, Sweden (10,591 dead) has more Facebook users, and a greater death rate, than any other Nordic country.
It's obviously not a definitive link between Facebook and mortality. There are all sorts of explanations for hugely complex relationships such as the election of authoritarian leaders and social networks. These are, however, issues worth investigating. The way we communicate matters. It shapes our worldview, and we live (or die) by the way we share what's "real".
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.