Covid Performance Index

Deconstructing pandemic responses

What impact have geography, political systems, population size, and economic development had on COVID-19 outcomes around the world?
Based on data available to 9 January 2021

Overview

More analysis

Coronavirus continues to spread worldwide with more than 90 million confirmed cases across 190 countries and two million deaths as of mid-January 2021. For nearly a year, governments and societies have been turned inwards to fight an invisible enemy, exposing competing structures, vulnerabilities, and political priorities. The pandemic has also given rise to an ‘infodemic’ of narratives and counter-narratives about what kinds of states are inherently better suited to combatting the virus.

This Interactive explores how almost 100 countries with publicly available and comparable data on the virus have managed the pandemic in the 36 weeks following their hundredth confirmed case of COVID-19, using data available to 9 January 2021. Countries have been sorted into broad categories — by regions, political systems, population size, and economic development — to determine whether significant variations exist between different types of states in the handling of the pandemic.

Some countries have managed the pandemic better than others – but most countries outcompeted each other only by degrees of underperformance. The severity of the pandemic in many countries has also changed significantly over time, with infections surging again in many places that had apparent success in suppressing initial outbreaks.

No single type of country emerged the unanimous winner in the period examined. Variations between individual countries were far more substantial than those between broad categories of countries. Nor did a single theory convincingly explain the differences observed in national outcomes, despite some health measures proving far more effective than others.

However, certain structural factors appear to be more closely associated with positive outcomes. For example, smaller countries (with populations of fewer than 10 million people) proved more agile than the majority of their larger counterparts in handling the health emergency for most of 2020.

On the other hand, levels of economic development or differences in political systems between countries had less of an impact on outcomes than often assumed or publicised. There may be some truth in the argument put forward by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama that the dividing line in effective crisis response has not been regime type, “but whether citizens trust their leaders, and whether those leaders preside over a competent and effective state”. In general, countries with smaller populations, cohesive societies, and capable institutions have a comparative advantage in dealing with a global crisis such as a pandemic.

Systemic factors alone — a society’s regional provenance, political system, economic development, or size — cannot account fully for the differences observed in global crisis responses. The results point to some of the strengths and vulnerabilities stemming from the way different countries are set up to deal with a public policy challenge of this scale. But policy choices and political circumstances of the day appear to be just as important in shaping national responses to the pandemic.

Measuring Performance

To gauge the relative performance of countries at different points in the pandemic, this Interactive tracked six measures of COVID-19 in the 98 countries for which data was available. The period examined spans the 36 weeks that followed every country’s hundredth confirmed case of COVID-19, using data available to 9 January 2021. Fourteen-day rolling averages of new daily figures were calculated for the following indicators:

  • Confirmed cases
  • Confirmed deaths
  • Confirmed cases per million people
  • Confirmed deaths per million people
  • Confirmed cases as a proportion of tests
  • Tests per thousand people

An equally weighted average of the rankings across those indicators was then calculated for individual countries in each period and normalised to produce a score from 0 (worst performing) to 100 (best performing). Collectively, these indicators point to how well or poorly countries have managed the pandemic in the 36 weeks that followed their hundredth confirmed case of COVID-19.

Further information on methodology, choice of indicators, and individual country scores and rankings can be found at the end of the Interactive.

Regions

Although the coronavirus outbreak started in China, countries in the Asia–Pacific, on average, proved the most successful at containing the pandemic. By contrast, the rapid spread of COVID-19 along the main arteries of globalisation quickly overwhelmed first Europe and then the United States. However, Europe also registered the greatest improvement over time of any region — with most countries there at one point exceeding the average performance of countries in the Asia–Pacific — before succumbing to a second, more severe, wave of the pandemic in the final months of 2020. Synchronous lockdowns across the highly integrated European continent successfully quelled the first wave, but more open borders left countries vulnerable to renewed outbreaks in neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile, the spread of the pandemic only accelerated in much of the Americas (North and South), making it the worst affected continent globally. Many countries in the Middle East and Africa managed to halt the initial progress of the pandemic with robust preventative measures. The regional situation eventually worsened there, before stabilising again in the second half of 2020.

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Asia-PacificAsia-PacificAmericasAmericasEuropeEuropeMiddle East and AfricaMiddle Eastand AfricaA LABEL TO REVEAL COUNTRIESAverage scoresAmericas33.8M. East & Africa49.0Europe51.0Asia-Pacific58.2
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AustraliaAustriaBahrainBangladeshBelarusBelgiumBoliviaBrazilBulgariaCanadaChileChinaColombiaCosta RicaCote d'IvoireCroatiaCyprusDemocratic Republic of CongoDenmarkDominican RepublicEl SalvadorEstoniaEthiopiaFinlandFranceGermanyGhanaGreeceGuatemalaHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIranIraqIrelandIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanKazakhstanKenyaKuwaitLatviaLibyaLithuaniaMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaltaMexicoMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNepalNetherlandsNew ZealandNigeriaNorwayOmanPakistanPanamaParaguayPhilippinesPolandPortugalQatarRomaniaRussiaRwandaSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSingaporeSlovakiaSloveniaSouth AfricaSouth KoreaSpainSri LankaSwedenSwitzerlandTaiwanThailandTogoTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayVietnamZambiaZimbabwe

Political systems

The tools to contain the spread of COVID-19 — stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, and border closures — have been common to most countries. But how governments convinced or compelled their citizens to adhere to these measures often reflected the nature of their political systems.

Despite initial differences, the performance of all regime types in managing the coronavirus converged over time. On average, countries with authoritarian models had no prolonged advantage in suppressing the virus. Indeed, despite a difficult start and some notable exceptions, including the United States and the United Kingdom, democracies found marginally more success than other forms of government in their handling of the pandemic over the examined period. By contrast, many hybrid regimes, such as Ukraine and Bolivia, appeared least able to meet the challenge.

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AuthoritarianAuthoritarianHybridHybridDemocraticDemocraticA LABEL TO REVEAL COUNTRIESAverage scoresHybrid41.6Authoritarian49.2Democratic50.8
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Population size

Categorising countries based on their population size revealed the greatest differences in experiences with the COVID-19 challenge. These results stand even after taking into account per capita indicators to evaluate performance, minimising the likelihood of a methodological bias against countries with more infections because they have larger populations. The fact that internal borders are often more open and porous than international borders may have facilitated the spread of the virus within countries with larger populations.

At the outset of the global pandemic, there was little discernible difference in country performance by population size. However, experiences between large, medium, and small populations diverged markedly less than a month after countries recorded their hundredth COVID-19 case. Smaller countries with populations of fewer than 10 million people consistently outperformed their larger counterparts throughout 2020, although this lead narrowed slightly towards the end of the examined period.

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SmallSmallMediumMediumLargeLargeA LABEL TO REVEAL COUNTRIESAverage scoresLarge31.7Medium47.2Small56.5
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Economic development

It is perhaps unsurprising that countries with higher per capita incomes had more resources available to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and performed better on average than developing countries for most of the crisis to date. More surprising is that many developing countries were able to cope with the initial outbreak of the pandemic and that advanced economies, as a grouping, lost their lead by the end of 2020 — with infections surging again in many places that had achieved apparent success in suppressing first waves of the pandemic.

Richer countries were quickly overwhelmed when the virus first emerged. International air travel accelerated virus transmission from abroad in these countries. By contrast, many governments in developing countries had more lead time — and often a greater sense of urgency — to put in place preventative measures after the scale and severity of the global crisis became known.

The relatively ‘low-tech’ nature of the health measures used to mitigate the spread of the virus to date, including large-scale lockdowns, may have created a more level playing field between developed and developing countries in the management of COVID-19. Despite this, the uneven deployment of the first vaccines against COVID-19 could give richer countries a decisive upper hand in crisis recovery efforts, and leave poorer countries fighting against the pandemic for longer.

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DevelopingDevelopingAdvancedAdvancedA LABEL TO REVEAL COUNTRIESAverage scoresDeveloping44.5Advanced57.4
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Country comparisons

To compare specific combinations of countries, use the search bar to make up to five selections.

    * China was not included in this Interactive’s overall analysis due to a lack of publicly available data on daily number of tests performed in the entire country. The dashed line gives an approximate indication only of China’s experience with COVID-19 based on a limited number of indicators, and is not a reliable comparison with other countries in this Interactive.

    * Data on daily tests undertaken in Sweden was unavailable until 18 weeks after the country’s hundredth confirmed case of COVID-19. Due to this missing data, this Interactive is unable to assess the country’s management of the pandemic during the first half of the 36-week period examined.

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    Country rankings

    This table provides a ranked comparison of the performance of countries in managing the COVID-19 pandemic in the 36 weeks following their hundredth confirmed case of the virus, using data available to 9 January 2021. In total, 98 countries were evaluated, based on the availability of data across the six indicators used to construct this Index. *

    Results can be sorted by rank or alphabetically.

    Rank Country/TerritoryAverage
    1Country flag of New Zealand
    New Zealand
    94.4
    2Country flag of Vietnam
    Vietnam
    90.8
    3Country flag of Taiwan
    Taiwan
    86.4
    4Country flag of Thailand
    Thailand
    84.2
    5Country flag of Cyprus
    Cyprus
    83.3
    6Country flag of Rwanda
    Rwanda
    80.8
    7Country flag of Iceland
    Iceland
    80.1
    8Country flag of Australia
    Australia
    77.9
    9Country flag of Latvia
    Latvia
    77.5
    10Country flag of Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka
    76.8
    11Country flag of Estonia
    Estonia
    76.4
    12Country flag of Uruguay
    Uruguay
    75.8
    13Country flag of Singapore
    Singapore
    74.9
    14Country flag of Malta
    Malta
    73.3
    15Country flag of Togo
    Togo
    72.8
    16Country flag of Malaysia
    Malaysia
    71.0
    17Country flag of Finland
    Finland
    70.4
    18Country flag of Norway
    Norway
    70.0
    19Country flag of Lithuania
    Lithuania
    69.7
    20Country flag of South Korea
    South Korea
    69.4
    21Country flag of Tunisia
    Tunisia
    66.7
    22Country flag of Slovakia
    Slovakia
    64.5
    23Country flag of Denmark
    Denmark
    62.9
    24Country flag of Myanmar
    Myanmar
    62.3
    25Country flag of Maldives
    Maldives
    61.0
    26Country flag of Mozambique
    Mozambique
    60.2
    27Country flag of Malawi
    Malawi
    60.2
    28Country flag of Trinidad and Tobago
    Trinidad and Tobago
    59.8
    29Country flag of Zambia
    Zambia
    59.8
    30Country flag of Uganda
    Uganda
    59.7
    31Country flag of Jamaica
    Jamaica
    58.6
    32Country flag of Greece
    Greece
    58.4
    33Country flag of Slovenia
    Slovenia
    58.1
    34Country flag of Cote d'Ivoire
    Cote d'Ivoire
    57.9
    35Country flag of United Arab Emirates
    United Arab Emirates
    57.5
    36Country flag of Senegal
    Senegal
    55.9
    37Country flag of Sweden
    * Sweden
    55.5
    38Country flag of Zimbabwe
    Zimbabwe
    54.9
    39Country flag of Democratic Republic of Congo
    Democratic Republic of Congo
    54.9
    40Country flag of Madagascar
    Madagascar
    54.2
    41Country flag of Ghana
    Ghana
    53.8
    42Country flag of Austria
    Austria
    52.8
    43Country flag of Ireland
    Ireland
    51.3
    44Country flag of Bahrain
    Bahrain
    50.2
    45Country flag of Japan
    Japan
    50.1
    46Country flag of Ethiopia
    Ethiopia
    49.1
    47Country flag of Kazakhstan
    Kazakhstan
    49.0
    48Country flag of Kenya
    Kenya
    48.2
    49Country flag of Nigeria
    Nigeria
    47.4
    50Country flag of Qatar
    Qatar
    47.1
    51Country flag of Serbia
    Serbia
    46.8
    52Country flag of Hungary
    Hungary
    46.3
    53Country flag of Switzerland
    Switzerland
    46.3
    54Country flag of Croatia
    Croatia
    45.9
    55Country flag of Germany
    Germany
    45.8
    56Country flag of El Salvador
    El Salvador
    43.0
    57Country flag of Namibia
    Namibia
    42.0
    58Country flag of Paraguay
    Paraguay
    40.9
    59Country flag of Italy
    Italy
    40.4
    60Country flag of Belarus
    Belarus
    39.7
    61Country flag of Canada
    Canada
    39.5
    62Country flag of Israel
    Israel
    39.5
    63Country flag of Portugal
    Portugal
    38.9
    64Country flag of Saudi Arabia
    Saudi Arabia
    38.5
    65Country flag of Poland
    Poland
    38.4
    66Country flag of United Kingdom
    United Kingdom
    37.5
    67Country flag of Bulgaria
    Bulgaria
    37.4
    68Country flag of Morocco
    Morocco
    37.1
    69Country flag of Pakistan
    Pakistan
    36.9
    70Country flag of Nepal
    Nepal
    36.6
    71Country flag of Costa Rica
    Costa Rica
    35.8
    72Country flag of Belgium
    Belgium
    35.6
    73Country flag of France
    France
    34.9
    74Country flag of Turkey
    Turkey
    34.3
    75Country flag of Netherlands
    Netherlands
    33.5
    76Country flag of Russia
    Russia
    32.0
    77Country flag of Libya
    Libya
    31.7
    78Country flag of Spain
    Spain
    31.2
    79Country flag of Philippines
    Philippines
    30.6
    80Country flag of Kuwait
    Kuwait
    28.9
    81Country flag of Romania
    Romania
    25.4
    82Country flag of South Africa
    South Africa
    25.4
    83Country flag of Iraq
    Iraq
    25.2
    84Country flag of Bangladesh
    Bangladesh
    24.9
    85Country flag of Indonesia
    Indonesia
    24.7
    86Country flag of India
    India
    24.3
    87Country flag of Dominican Republic
    Dominican Republic
    23.8
    88Country flag of Guatemala
    Guatemala
    22.6
    89Country flag of Chile
    Chile
    22.0
    90Country flag of Ukraine
    Ukraine
    20.7
    91Country flag of Oman
    Oman
    20.3
    92Country flag of Panama
    Panama
    19.7
    93Country flag of Bolivia
    Bolivia
    18.9
    94Country flag of United States
    United States
    17.3
    95Country flag of Iran
    Iran
    15.9
    96Country flag of Colombia
    Colombia
    7.7
    97Country flag of Mexico
    Mexico
    6.5
    98Country flag of Brazil
    Brazil
    4.3

    Please note
    1. China was not included in this ranking due to a lack of data on daily number of tests performed in the country for the entirety of the examined period. Data for Taiwan is provided separately to that of China.
    2. Sweden’s composite score is based on the country’s management of the pandemic during the latter half of the examined period only. Due to incomplete data, Sweden’s ranking does not account for the country’s experience with the pandemic during the country’s first wave of COVID-19 infections.
    3. Please see the Methodology section for further details on exclusions and inclusions.

    Methodology

    In approaching the task of measuring the comparative effectiveness of countries’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of criteria are relevant. Fewer reported cases and deaths, both in aggregate and per capita terms, point towards a better response to the virus. More tests conducted on a per capita basis reveal a more accurate picture of the extent of the pandemic at the national level. Lower rates of positive tests, meanwhile, indicate greater degrees of control over the transmission of COVID-19.

    To gauge the relative performance of countries at different points in the pandemic, this Interactive tracked six measures of COVID-19 prevalence in countries with publicly available and comparable data. In total, 98 countries were evaluated in this Interactive in the 36 weeks that followed their hundredth confirmed case of COVID-19, using data available to 9 January 2021. Data was extracted from the Our World in Data series, which is maintained by researchers at the University of Oxford and the non-for-profit Global Change Data Lab.

    Fourteen-day rolling averages of new daily figures were calculated for the following indicators:

    • Confirmed cases
    • Confirmed deaths
    • Confirmed cases per million people
    • Confirmed deaths per million people
    • Confirmed cases as a proportion of tests
    • Tests per thousand people

    Collectively, these indicators point to how well or poorly countries have managed the pandemic. An equally weighted average of the rankings across the six indicators was normalised for each country to produce a score between 0 (worst performing) and 100 (best performing) on any given day in the 36 weeks that followed their hundredth confirmed case of COVID-19.

    A score of 100 indicates that a country achieved the best average score across the six indicators compared to all other countries examined at a comparable point in time. Conversely, a score of 0 indicates that a country had the worst average score at a given moment during the pandemic.

    Performance by types of countries was calculated by taking the average score of all countries that fell into the relevant category, where categories were determined based on the criteria set out below.

    Regions were determined on the basis of commonly classified geographical groupings. The designation of political systems is based on The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2019, with democracies comprising full and flawed democracies. Countries were considered to have a large, medium, or small population size if they had populations of over 100 million, between 10–100 million, or fewer than 10 million, respectively. The categorisation of advanced and developing economies follows the designations used by the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook.

    Note on exclusions and inclusions

    Note on exclusions & inclusions

    Countries with fewer than 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were not included in this assessment as they did not face a substantial COVID-19 outbreak within their borders in the examined period. In addition, a number of countries with more than 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 could not be included due to a lack of available data for at least one of the six indicators used to construct the Index during the entirety of the examined period. In order to track performance across time, this Interactive uses daily data to produce fourteen-day rolling averages. In the case of China, for example, Our World in Data is unable to derive daily number of tests performed in the entire country based on the two occasions in which testing data has been reported by the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China to date. A detailed description of this can be found under the source information of the Our World in Data series.

    An effort has been made to include countries where daily data for all six indicators is available for part of, but not the entirety of, the examined period. However, countries were not awarded a composite score in periods during which data was unavailable for any given indicator, resulting in a truncated assessment of their overall management of the pandemic over time. While data for the vast majority of countries was available for much of the 36 week period examined, there are 10 countries that have 8 weeks or more of missing or incomplete data in the 36 week period under examination. These are: Belarus, Brazil, Colombia, France, Madagascar, Malawi, Oman, Sweden, Tunisia and Vietnam. In the case of Sweden, for example, data on daily tests in aggregate and per capita terms was unavailable until 18 weeks after the country’s hundredth confirmed cases of COVID-19. As a result, the ranking and score is not reflective of the country’s management of the pandemic during the first half of the 36-week period examined.

    Research

    Alyssa Leng and Hervé Lemahieu

    Power and Diplomacy Program

    Design / Dev

    Brody Smith

    Data Visualisation Specialist