- Estimates from a doctors’ union in France say the country might have as many as 1.67 million COVID-19 patients, not including asymptomatic coronavirus carriers.
- Sweden might have more than a million cases of COVID-19 cases as well, according to a mathematical model.
- This data can’t be confirmed without proper coronavirus testing. But widespread COVID-19 screening campaigns aren’t possible in many countries right now.
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Lack of proper testing for the coronavirus, as well as the particularities of COVID-19, make it impossible to tell how many people have the illness. Only patients who show symptoms can qualify for a test in countries that don’t have enough tests or the capacity to process them. Even countries that have conducted broader COVID-19 campaigns can’t be sure of how many infected people they may contain, especially with patients who experience no symptoms. About a month ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that up to 70% of the population could contract the virus, which translates to a mind-boggling 58 million people.
With that in mind, an estimate from a doctors’ union in France that predicts over 1.6 million French people may have COVID-19 shouldn’t surprise anyone. Estimates from Sweden, a country that’s doing its own thing to mitigate the health crisis, also say there may be up to one million cases in the region.
At the time of this writing, the world had almost 1.625 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 100,000 deaths. France’s figures were at 86,339 cases and 12,210 deaths. Sweden’s COVID-19 numbers sat at 9,685 and 870 deaths. The former has been taken severe social distancing measures to flatten the curve, while life in Sweden is pretty much unchanged despite local and international criticism.
A projection by general practitioners’ union MG France, based on reports from doctors who have seen COVID-19 patients, says that more than 1.67 million people in the country have been infected. According to Agence France Presse, the union said that 2,048 members who participated in an online survey saw 56,154 people with coronavirus symptoms between March 17th and April 3rd. Extrapolating from these figures got them to the 1.67 million estimate, or 2.5% of France’s population of 67 million.
That’s an incredibly high number, but one that makes sense in the grand scheme of things. The virus is highly contagious, and it’s been circulating in France for 75 days. Many people could have been carrying the novel coronavirus without ever knowing. However, it can’t be confirmed without testing.
“Obviously, this is an extrapolation,” MG France president Jacques Battistoni, adding that the figure takes into account only people who had symptoms, not asymptomatic carriers. “But it does give an idea of the order of magnitude.”
Jean-Francois Delfraissy, who heads the country’s coronavirus science council, told France Info earlier this week that a campaign of testing among the general population in eastern France suggested the infected population was much smaller than expected, “possibly in the order of 10 to 15 percent.”
Sweden, which caught the ire of Donald Trump for not subjecting its population to strict social distancing measures like most European countries and the US, might have a substantial unconfirmed caseload on its hands as well. “Sweden did that, the herd, they call it the herd. Sweden’s suffering very, very badly,” Trump said on Tuesday, per CNN.
The “herd” thing is herd immunity, a tactic the UK tried briefly to employ. The idea is that you let the virus infect a large number of people until much of the population is immune. But the UK changed its mind when it realized the science it was working with was flawed, and achieving herd immunity couldn’t be done without a significant death toll.
Professor of mathematical statistics at Stockholm University Tom Britton told CNN that 40% of the people living in Stockholm will be infected by the end of April. “My best guess today would be 10% or a bit more” of Swedes have the disease. That would translate to more than 1 million people. Sweden has a population of 10,333,456 people, according to its late January census. The city of Stockholm has nearly 975,000 inhabitants, while the metro region has 2,377,081. Applying that 40% guesstimate to any of these figures still results in a lot of unconfirmed cases.
Again, without testing, these figures can’t be proven. However, the evolution of France and Sweden in the coming months will shed more light on the COVID-19 outbreaks in these countries. But if these estimates are anywhere close to accurate, then other countries could have millions of unconfirmed cases of their own.