Coronavirus: What are the chances of dying?

Researchers currently think that between five and 40 coronavirus cases in 1,000 will result in death, with a best guess of nine in 1,000 or about 1%.

On Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK government’s “very best assessment” was that the mortality rate was “2% or, likely, lower”.

But it depends on a range of factors: your age, sex and general health and the health system you are in.

How hard is it to work out the death rate?

It is PhD-level hard. Even counting cases is tricky.

Most cases of most viruses will go uncounted because people tend not to visit the doctor with mild symptoms.

The different death rates we are seeing reported around the world are unlikely to be due to different versions of the virus.

According to research by Imperial College, it’s because different countries are better or worse at spotting the milder, harder to count cases.

So under-reporting cases makes it easy to overestimate the death rate. But you can also get it wrong in the other direction.

It takes time before an infection results in recovery or death.

If you include all cases that haven’t yet had a chance to run their course, you will underestimate the death rate because you are missing the cases that will end in death later.

Scientists combine individual pieces of evidence about each of these questions to build a picture of the death rate.

For example, they estimate the proportion of cases with mild symptoms from small, defined groups of people who are monitored very tightly, like people on repatriated flights.

But slightly different answers from those pieces of evidence will add up to big changes in the overall picture.

If you just use data from Hubei, where the death rate has been much higher than elsewhere in China, then the overall death rate will look much worse.

So scientists give a range as well as a best current estimate.


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