Usually statisticians historians and policy-makers have the luxury of time to examine data, determine its accuracy, and draw conclusions-something that currently they do not have. Headline death

figures record the tragic loss and suffering, but can be very misleading as not every fatality is recorded the same way in a country, let alone when comparing countries.

The UK includes deaths in hospitals, care homes and at home. Belgium and France include the first two locations but not the wider community and France admits its information on care homes isn't

robust. Germany's reporting lags behind other European nations. Many countries still only report hospital deaths.

Are we then unable to make any comparisons? No-we can, as long as we include these caveats and relevant factors: deaths per million, population density, age structure, single/multi-generation

households, ethnicity, prior health conditions, medical systems' effectiveness, perhaps pollution and even climate (and there will be more that I haven't thought of).

Even then we must be careful. 'Arithmetic' Population Density (area divided by population) is misleading. Spain has an APD of 93 per square kilometre. But most of Spain is uninhabited. Its 'Lived/Built-up'

Density (area actually occupied) is 737; followed by Netherlands 546, England 531 (London 5,800: inner-city Newham 16,000), Italy 453, Germany 376, Poland 196, France 195, Ireland 81 (only Finland is lower).

We should look at the data, see how confident we are in its accuracy, adjust for this, include all relevant factors; and then reach a tentative conclusion. We need to be continually collecting

new-and hopefully more accurate, data and revising our conclusions so we can engage in evidenced and reasoned debate.


Francis Lankester