Why Covid Killed More English-Speakers

By Gwynne Dyer, in News, World, Opinion, COVID-19 · 25-02-2021 15:16:00 · 7 Comments

To those who obsessively followed the Covid websites over the past eleven months (including me, I must admit), one thing demanded an explanation above all: why were the worst death rates-per-million in the richest, most developed countries, and in the United States and the United Kingdom most of all?

Bits of the answer were obvious, of course. Covid-19 selectively kills the elderly, and poor countries with high birth rates have a very low proportion of elderly people. They can’t die in droves if they just aren’t there.

There’s also the issue of under-counting, which you would expect to be worse in countries with poor or no public health service, but the phenomenon extends even into middle-income countries like Russia.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova revealed recently that ‘excess deaths’ in 2020 were three times bigger than the number who had ‘Covid’ on their death certificates – but that 80% of the excess were also probably Covid deaths. If so, then Russia’s death rate was almost as bad as the United States.

But even compared to other rich counties with the same age profile, the UK and the US performed terribly in ‘deaths per million’, which is the best measure since it is not distorted by population size. The United States has had 1,555 Covid deaths per million people. Canada has had 573 deaths per million, barely a third as many per capita.

As for the United Kingdom, it has had 1,781 deaths per million, even worse than the US – whereas Germany has had only 824. In fact, the US and the UK together account for four-fifths of all Covid deaths in the ten worst-performing countries.

So what is going on here? Is speaking English bad for your health? Three-quarters of Canadians speak English, so probably not.

Does God punish countries that elect lying, narcissistic populists as leaders? Perhaps, but I’d prefer a more evidence-based answer, and at last we have one. Maybe.

Michele Gelfand, a cultural psychologist at the University of Maryland, may have the key that unlocks the puzzle. At the very least, she has great timing.

In her 2018 book ‘Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World’, Gelfand proposed that some national cultures embrace discipline while others glorify rule-breaking. That may sound like your usual social-scientist-desperate-for-a-fresh-angle re-framing national stereotypes as statistical fact, but she may be on to something about Covid death rates.

Her latest research was published in ‘Lancet Planetary Health’, a leading epidemiological journal, late last month. Using her established categories of ‘tight’ societies (willing to abide strictly by social norms, e.g. Singapore, Japan, China, Austria) versus ‘loose’ ones (more permissive about rule-breaking, e.g. the US, the UK, Israel, Italy), she compared Covid case rates and death rates.

The results were quite striking. The ‘loose’ cultures on average had five times the infection rate of the ‘tight’ ones, and eight times the death rate. If you compare the most libertarian with the most conformist, say the United States vs. Japan, then the contrast is astounding: about 25 times as many American cases and deaths per million.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Well, it suggests that the role of individual leaders like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson in shaping disastrous national Covid outcomes was probably not decisive. The outcomes would probably have been pretty bad even if less irresponsible leaders had been in charge.

Secondly, as Gelfand points out, the human cost that countries pay for being ‘loose’ in times of crisis may be compensated by the advantages they gain in creativity and innovation in better times (although it would be tactless to make this argument to the victims).

But there is something wrong with Gelfand’s explanation for why countries become or remain ‘tight’ or ‘loose’. She argues that “communities with histories of chronic threat – whether natural disasters, infectious diseases, famines or invasions – develop stricter rules that ensure order and cohesion.” That would make sense, but history says it’s really not that simple.

How did Israel – the Holocaust, six wars in the past 75 years, most of the population descended from refugees – end up among the carefree, permissive countries? And by the way, it really doesn’t have a very high death rate (614 per million).

Shouldn’t the Eastern European countries (world wars, civil wars, foreign occupation, waves of refugees) be among the ‘tightest’ societies in the world? Yet seven of the fifteen countries with the highest death rates in the world are among the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe – places like Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, all with over 1,450 deaths per million.

There’s probably a lot more hard-wiring involved in determining where a culture ends up in terms of ‘tight’ or ‘loose’. And by the way, we would all love to know: why did the United States Navy pay for this research?

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Answer to this question: entitlement and hubris. The author mentions Israel, and neglects to point out that in that case, the Ultra-orthodox populations were the most non-compliant with covid measures, because they claim it goes against "their way of life". But same applies to US, UK, and even richer countries in the EU. Unfortunately the gaining of "rights" without its counterpart, "responsibilities", fosters superiority dellusions in people. So i´m not arguing against attaining those rights, but pointing out that only looking at 1 side(which only privileged ppl can afford to do) carries practical effects with it. And it seems (finally) karma, or the nature of these things ends up balacing the unbalance. The hard way, bc since privilege w/out sensitivity and/or intelligence makes these ppl act way more carelessly and pathetically, whatever benefits gained at the cost of others´misery are then lost. Live and learn, indeed.

By guida from Lisbon on 27-02-2021 08:06

What a useless article. If you did a little research you would have found the easy answer to your question. Follow the money. ....

By Joe from Other on 25-02-2021 09:14

It is interesting to read Mr Clay's comments. Mr Trump encouraged people to take risks and not wear masks. Boris Johnston firstly made it sound like it would just go away with the herd theory only to backtrack.
There are counties that have lost discipline. In the UK I often found people hated being told what to do. This may be because we are a nation of rule makers and this is counteracted by a nation of rule breakers. With Trump in power the same could be said... Anarchy was OK.
People in Portugal were very obedient in the first wave, and they have been good in this current wave.

By Ian Moore from Lisbon on 25-02-2021 08:25

Obesity rates... The diets of these countries is awful.

By Gregorio from Algarve on 25-02-2021 07:42

I don't think you should air your political views in a global view of the virus, I found it particularly offensive in a theme which is frankly a distortion of the truth. The fortunes of the UK are defined by sheer density, and in the US by necessity very high levels of air travel between cities and states. UK land mass is just 2.5% of the US and yet is home to 275 people per sq. km compared to the US 36 people per sq km. The facts speak for themselves rather than your indulgence in speculation

By David Rowlands from Algarve on 25-02-2021 07:41

A stated, it is very obvious that it is the old part of the population that has taken the hit. I Sweden 50% of the death lived in special homes for old persons. 25% lived at home, but needed help with their daily work.
My view is that this has nothing to do with soft or tight. But how well the care of elderly people is organised. A system with persons hired per hour. Where one old persons is visited by 20 persons per week. Spreads virus fast. People payed by hour does not want to stay home even if they do not feel OK. The go to work and spread the disease. So a bad organised care of elderly people is the root. The care os organized by persons without leadership. And it is performed in cheapest possible way. That is where we have the root cause. Not in Corona strategy, Lock downs, closed or open schools. Permitted or not to take a walk in the nature. Och make a MC tour by yourself. You can blame many things. But avoiding the through. We had a system already before Corona, for taking care of elderly people that made this happen.
One thing that is different in more more "latin" countries is that families take care of their old folks, And the old folks are part of the family, And are not exposed to the systems that we have in more northern and "developed" countries. Where institutions shall do the work.

Myself I bought a gun, save it int the bottom of my pannier. Have all my savings on top of that. And I will run until the founds end. And then I have the final solution in the bottom. I will not be stored in an institute

By Gustav from Algarve on 25-02-2021 07:14

The language of this opinion piece is offensive. Berating two world leaders, of right wing persuasion, goes to show the leftist leanings of the writer of the piece. A more balanced piece would have been appreciated.

By Ian Clay from Lisbon on 25-02-2021 04:55
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