Here's why New Zealand, Slovakia and Portugal have so few coronavirus cases compared to other countries

Wednesday, 29th April 2020, 11:56 am
Updated Wednesday, 29th April 2020, 11:56 am

While coronavirus has touched multiple countries around the world, not all of them have been affected as badly as the UK.

New Zealand, for example, announced this week that they had "currently" eliminated coronavirus, with the number of new cases per day falling to single figures.

In Europe, Slovakia has one of the lowest per capita death rates across the continent, while Portugal has managed to keep case numbers relatively low in comparison to its neighbour Spain - one of the worst-hit countries in the world.

The spread of coronavirus can vary from country to country, depending on a huge array of factors, including air pollution levels, the heath of citizens, the age of citizens, population density, and patterns of movement among the population.

While it's difficult for experts to say precisely what combination of measures has made some countries successful in keeping cases and death rates low, there are a couple of factors that their responses have had in common.

Speed in locking down

Generally, the countries that locked down quickly have fared better in keeping both death and transmission rates low.

Portugal, for instance, suspended all events, banned non-essential movement and closed all non-essential shops and schools before the third death was confirmed in the country.

In Italy, however, events were cancelled and schools closed a full nine days after the third death in the country was confirmed. Non-essential movement was only banned 14 days after the third death was confirmed, along with the closure of non-essential shops.

It took the UK eight days after the third death was confirmed to suspend events, 12 days after it to close non-essential shops, and 14 days after it to close schools.

While Portugal's coronavirus mortality rate is estimated to be around three per cent, it stands around 12 per cent in the UK and around 14 per cent in Italy.

Widespread testing

Countries like South Korea and Germany have been praised for ramping up their testing capabilities early on.

In South Korea, identifying and isolating positive cases was made a priority, and the country quickly developed the capacity to run around 15,000 tests per day. Tests are free of charge and include drive-through testing booths that have since been replicated in other places.

By quickly identifying and isolating coronavirus cases, countries with high testing capabilities have been able to slow the spread of the disease, thus keeping cases and deaths low.

As widespread testing can identify asymptomatic or mild coronavirus cases, this can affect the calculation of the overall mortality rate in a country.

In the UK, for instance, testing is not currently widely available to the general public, meaning the number of cases is likely much higher than the numbers given by the government.

This may also mean the overall mortality rate for coronavirus in the UK is lower than the estimated 12 per cent, as this figure doesn't account for potential cases outside of hospitals, which have not been confirmed with a test.