High covid-19 rate in Lux still driven by high test rate


Different countries provide different covid-19 statistics. Photo: Erik Mclean/Unsplash 

Luxembourg has had the highest proportion of confirmed covid-19 cases per million since mid-March.

This latest information comes from Our World in Data, a publication based at the University of Oxford, which has released several infographics created using data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and national government figures, including Luxembourg’s.

As of this writing, the Our World in Data charts cover the period from 31 December 2019 to 14 May 2020.

Confirmed covid-19 cases

Luxembourg sits atop the list of countries with the highest number of covid-19 cases per capita. Luxembourg recorded a rate of 6,236 confirmed cases per 1m people, as of 14 May.

Luxembourg’s rate is 50% greater than Belgium’s (4,657.70), roughly three times higher than Germany’s (2,055.75) and nearly 30 times higher than South Korea’s (214.38). Iceland also had a very high rate somewhat close to Luxembourg’s (5,280.59).

As will be explained below, these numbers do need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Confirmed covid-19 tests

Luxembourg’s high rate of covid-19 cases is almost certainly linked to the fact that it has one of the world’s highest rates of testing for covid-19.

Luxembourg has performed 93.82 covid-19 tests per thousand people, as of 14 May. That is twice as many tests per capita as Italy (46.43), four times as many tests per person as the UK (23.46), and more than six times the proportion in South Korea (13.88).

Iceland had a significantly higher ratio than Luxembourg, 162.89 tests per thousand persons.

There are some important points to note about these statistics. Our World in Data explained that:

“For testing figures, there are substantial differences across countries in terms of the units, whether or not all labs are included, the extent to which negative and pending tests are included and other aspects.”

For example, Luxembourg reports the number of covid-19 “tests analysed”, Italy “tests performed”, UK “people tested” and Our World in Data said Iceland’s measure is “unclear”.

Covid-19 deaths

In the death toll tally, Luxembourg switches position and finds itself toward the bottom of the tables. As of 14 May, Luxembourg had 164.54 deaths per million people, a rate far lower than the ones reported in Belgium (763.01), Italy (514.47), the UK (488.85) and US (254.18).

That said, Germany (92.18), Iceland (29.30) and South Korea (5.07) all reported a lower covid-19 mortality rate per 1m.

Again, these numbers are not perfect. Our World in Data stated:

“Limited testing and challenges in the attribution of the cause of death means that the number of confirmed deaths may not be an accurate count of the true number of deaths from covid-19.”

Methodologies vary greatly between countries, in other words. For example, Belgium counts as “confirmed” all cases where a doctor suspects covid-19; other countries only report deaths with a positive test result from a lab.

While international covid-19 comparisons are tricky, this data shows a link between the number of tests conducted and the number of confirmed cases, and indicates that the total number of patients is not directly connected to the number of resulting deaths.