Why the coronavirus death rate varies so much

“Health sector decision-makers and disease modelers probably should consider a broad range of 0.25%–3.0% for COVID-19 case-fatality risk estimates,” they wrote. “The higher values could be more appropriate in resource poor settings where the quality of hospital and intensive care might be constrained. Higher values might also be appropriate in high-income countries with limited surge capacity in hospital services because elevated case-fatality risks could be seen at the peak of local epidemics.”

In both studies, the scientists acknowledge that fatality rates could be significantly inflated due to both a lack of testing and mild cases that go unreported. We may not know the true overall death rate for months to come, but experts are optimistic that it will be at the low end of estimates – likely less than two, or even one, percent.

Now that the coronavirus is spreading globally, with 169,175 confirmed cases and 6,499 deaths as of March 15, all governments and peoples essentially face a choice between the worst-case scenario witnessed early on in Wuhan and the best-case scenario in a country like Singapore, where the death rate is zero. Mass testing, tracking, social isolation, and containment, as we’ve seen in South Korea and Singapore, can cap the number of cases at manageable levels and keep the death rate at 1% or lower. Complacency, as we’ve seen in Italy, Iran, and (arguably) the United States, can have disastrous, deadly consequences and force draconian actions once an outbreak spins out of control.