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The COVID-19 Numbers in the Developing World Are Terrifying

They're much, much too small.
April 2, 2020
The COVID-19 Numbers in the Developing World Are Terrifying
A Red Cross volunteer measures a man's temperature before he is allowed to enter Nakasero market in Kampala, on April 1, 2020. - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on March 30, 2020, ordered an immediate 14-day nationwide lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus which has so far infected 33 people in the country. (Photo by SUMY SADURNI / AFP) (Photo by SUMY SADURNI/AFP via Getty Images)

1. Bad News

It seems as though the math finally caught the attention of the president of the United States on Tuesday night. That’s a positive. Good for him.

There ends of the good news.

Here is the bad news:

That was from 9:50 p.m. on Tuesday.

This does not mean that 150,000 Americans are necessarily going to die. Variables can change. But it does mean that as of right now, we are on the glide path for a six-figure death toll.

Think about that for a minute.

It’s entirely possible that more Americans will die from COVID-19 just this spring than died in World War I.

Or, if you prefer, more than died in the Korean War, plus Vietnam, plus Afghanistan, plus Iraq.

And remember: This is only the first phase of the pandemic. Come next winter, it will almost certainly reemerge. Until there’s a vaccine and it’s widely deployed, the management of this virus will be the top priority of the U.S. government, even once it looks like we’re in remission.

But there’s worse news.

One of the things that’s been bugging me when I look at the map is the numbers in the developing world. They’re way too small.

Let’s do some math together.

Nigeria has 205 million people and a major city in Lagos that’s dense and internationally connected. They have 151 confirmed cases.

Iceland has 365,000 people and is so low density that the entire country has only a handful of buildings over ten stories tall.

Iceland has 1,135 confirmed cases.

Does this seem plausible to you? Me neither.

There are only three possibilities for what’s going on here:

(1) The novel coronavirus has some as-yet undiscovered property which makes it target first-world populations, almost exclusively.

(2) It has not yet hit developing countries.

(3) It is active in developing countries, but they lack the testing capacity to see the disease as of yet.

If the answer is either (2) or (3) then there are a bunch of high-population developing countries that are ticking time bombs:

  • Indonesia: 268 million people; 1,677 confirmed cases
  • Pakistan: 212 million people; 2,042 confirmed cases
  • India: 1.3 billion people; 1,637 confirmed cases
  • Ethiopia: 112 million people; 29 confirmed cases
  • Brazil: 210 million people; 5,812 confirmed cases

All of which is the long way of saying that the global death toll will be at 50,000 in a few days and we are still at the very beginning of this pandemic. If COVID-19 hits the developing world—where pockets of density are very high and testing capacity and access to healthcare are spotty, at best—then the human cost is going to be the stuff of nightmares.

2. Impeachment Made Him Do It

You knew this would happen because we’ve seen it a hundred times before:

We went from Trump defenders insisting that the coronavirus wasn’t a problem to now claiming that the only reason Trump didn’t take this very real problem more seriously is because he was “distracted” by impeachment.

George Conway has the definitive dismantling of this argument. But of course it’s specious. Because anyone who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time should not be president of the United States to begin with.

And it’s not like Trump hasn’t had time to keep his eye on other balls during this crisis. Here, for instance, is a fundraising email a friend of mine received on March 28:

Even in the middle of a pandemic, there’s always time for grift.

3. Sex at the Olympics

Re-reading this 2012 ESPN classic I can almost hear Edith Piaf. It’s a dream from a bygone age:

AMERICAN TARGET SHOOTER Josh Lakatos faced a conundrum. Halfway through the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, he and his rifle-toting teammates were finished with their events, and the U.S. Olympic Committee and team officials had ordered them to turn in the keys to their three-story house and head back to the States. But Lakatos didn’t want to leave. He knew from his experience four years earlier in Atlanta, where he’d won silver, that the Olympic Village was just about to erupt into a raucous party, and there was no way he was going to miss it. So he asked the maid at the emptied-out dwelling if she’d kindly look the other way as he jimmied the lock. “I don’t care what you do,” she replied.

Within hours, word of the nearly vacant property had spread. Popping up once every two years, the Olympic Village is a boisterous city within a city: chock-full of condos, midrises and houses as well as cafés, barbershops, arcades, discos and TV lounges. The only thing missing is privacy — nearly everyone is stuck with a roommate. So while Lakatos claimed a first-floor suite for himself, the remaining rooms were there for the taking. The first to claim space that night were some Team USA track and field fellas.

“The next morning,” Lakatos says, “swear to God, the entire women’s 4×100 relay team of some Scandinavian-looking country walks out of the house, followed by boys from our side. And I’m just going, ‘Holy crap, we’d watched these girls run the night before.'”

And on it went for eight days as scores of Olympians, male and female, trickled into the shooter’s house — and that’s what everyone called it, Shooters’ House — at all hours, stopping by an Oakley duffel bag overflowing with condoms procured from the village’s helpful medical clinic. After a while, it dawned on Lakatos: “I’m running a friggin’ brothel in the Olympic Village! I’ve never witnessed so much debauchery in my entire life.”

Read the whole thing and smile at what once was.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.