Fatality rates appear to vary dramatically between countries around the world, anywhere from 0.5 to 10 per cent of cases, and experts say the true answer lies somewhere in the middle.
In early March, before the number of reported cases entered the hundreds of thousands and the death toll from the disease spiked, the World Health Organization released an estimated case fatality rate.
“Globally, about 3.4 per cent of reported COVID-19 cases have died,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on March 3. “By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than one per cent of those infected.”
That number was determined by using a simple mathematical formula — the number of confirmed deaths divided by the number of reported cases.
At the time, there were 90,893 reported cases of COVID-19 around the world and 3,110 deaths.
But the number of cases is now more than five times what it was then — with more than 500,000 cases and 25,000 deaths worldwide — putting the current global case fatality rate at just over 4.5 per cent.
Why is it different in every country?
The global case fatality rate is constantly in flux for a variety of reasons, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the virus is more deadly in any one region of the world.
The onset of outbreaks in different countries, the accuracy of their reporting, backlogs in testing, the age of their population and the effectiveness of containment measures taken to stop it from overwhelming health care systems all contribute to a varying rate.
Among countries that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, Iran has seen a case fatality rate of more than seven per cent, Spain over 7.5 per cent and Italy above 10 per cent.