Testing for Covid19 in EU (Update)

Thank you for all the feedback I received after last week’s blog post about testing in the EU for the virus. It has motivated me to, first, update my table and see if there were changes from a week before. And second, to face up with the logic: there are no tests because there are fewer cases of the virus in certain member states.

First, the update:

Data: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/. Table composed by Piotr Maciej Kaczyński

What changed? Cyprus started to test en masse. So did Lithuania. Someone pointed to me that different countries are at different stage of the virus. Of course they are. Yet my original point stands: every country had over a month and half by now to do what the South Koreans or the Taiwanese did and what works: contain the virus, or if this proves elusive, test en masse. So even if the virus arrives late in country X, this country should have started the process of fighting the virus seriously sometime over the past 1,5 month.

Who has, who hasn’t? You have it on the table above. And don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that if you are poor you are not testing. It was never my objective to stigmatise anyone. Clearly some poorer nations are testing much more than their richer neighbours. But Bulgaria and Romania are, objectively, the poorest nations in our EU. My argument is they did not test en masse not because they are poor, but because they are poorly organised. I hope I am proven wrong. Romania just took over Hungary.

Portugal has been praised over last week for their apparently successful approach. Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia are in the upper part of the table. On the other hand, France continues to be in the lower part of the table.

By now there is no “right” amount how many tests there should be. As always, every table has a limitation.

Now, the argument that motivated me today: “we do not test as much, because there is no virus”. Clearly this is an egg-chicken question: you don’t test, you don’t get confirmed cases, you are in the don’t-know zone. But if you do test a lot and you don’t find the virus, some politicians tend to say: “see, the virus is not as present here”. This I can measure in a table. So I made a table looking for an indicator how many cases there were per tests. The higher the indicator the clearer the perspective that this country is under-testing. On the other end are the nations where testing is plentiful but have few cases of the virus. Hence, they might be over-testing, maybe?. Here’s the table:

Data: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/. Table composed by Piotr Maciej Kaczyński

What can I say from the table above? That France (every third test is positive!), Belgium and the Netherlands are behind their own testing needs. On the other end Malta, Lithuania, Latvia and Cyprus have been super cautious. Maybe for the right reasons.

From both tables (a lot of testing, and a rare occurrence) I would say that Malta is in the best position to contain the virus. Who is doing a great job? I’d like to say the nations which are above Austria in the first table and below Austria in the second table, are doing fine: Slovenia, Portugal, Estonia and Malta. Why Austria? This country seems to have an effective approach with the amount of tests, but also public policy. Just look at their “new cases graph” from Wordometers:

Obviously picking up one country is purely subjective, but my point is this: if you score low on the second table may mean you have less virus, but if there are few tests it may equally mean you are hiding something.

Just look at two neighbours, Poland and Czechia. Similar economic tradition, similar recent historical path, no reason to expect the virus to significantly differ in both countries. Poland has had 5,341 tests per million citizens, while Czechia three times that, 16,679. Meanwhile there are about 4.4 new confirmed cases per 100 tests in Poland, while in Czechia 3.9. Now, it can mean that the virus is not as present in Poland, but equally probable is this argument:

if Poles had Czech level of testing there would be three times more confirmed cases.

This takes me to today’s conclusion: we do not have all the data to say that things are 100% confirmed. Even Austrians can’t be relaxed yet. Nor the Maltese. But the governments in Sofia, Warsaw, Bucharest and Budapest, as well as in Brussels and Paris, should listen to this WHO recommendation: test, test, test!

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