How do the COVID-19 curves compare in North Africa?

This information is as of May 16, 2020. The situation may evolve differently than this post suggests. I am no epidemiologist nor stats expert, so please read this with a grain of salt.

Information about the infamous COVID-19 curves are plenty. Often times during this pandemic, I found myself asking how countries within certain geographies (e.g., North Africa) or with similar characterstics (e.g., income levels) compare to each other. However, I could not find this information easily, so I decided to build some data visualization myself. Luckily, my curiosity coincided with my learning how to code (hence this blog!), so it was a great way to put my newly acquired skills to the test.

In this blog post, I focus on North Africa, but I’ve also created visualizations for all different regions and by income group. If you want to take a look, leave a comment.

I know that it is difficult to derive any insights about the nature of the curves and why they differ (as that depends on a variety factors that we do not understand nor quantify yet), but I wanted to show the data nonetheless to fulfill my curiosity :) and hopefully yours too :)

In the plots below, the x-axis represents the number of days since the first death was recorded. The y-axis represents a normalized indicator — per million (for cases) and per thousand (for tests) — in order to account for population size differences. The source of this information is Oxford’s Our World in Data dataset, as well as some World Bank data that I used to classify countries into regions and income groups.

NB. This should be taken with a grain of salt since testing capacity, reporting, health care systems, resources, all differ from country to the next.

  1. New Daily Cases

In this plot, we see that Tunisia has successfully “flattened” the curve. Indeed, the country has not registered any new daily cases between May 9 and May 14 (although it has recorded a handful since then).

It looks like Morocco has been in a plateau for a while and is now on its way down in controling new daily cases. Morocco seems to have been able to flatten the curve more aggressively than its neighbours, since there was a period of time where daily new cases were increasing much faster in Morocco than in the other countries. (It could however also be due to an increased testing capacity that happened around that time)

As for Algeria, Egypt and Sudan, they are still on an upward trend, with Sudan on a slightly steeper curve than the rest. One more thing to note here: Given that Egypt has more than double the population size of its neighbors, it’s laudable that it has maintained a similar trend line.

2. New Daily Deaths

The plot below shows once again that the “success story” so far is Tunisia, which was able to control the daily new deaths and bring it down close to zero. Once again, Morocco follows suit and is hopefully on track to zero new deaths per day.

Algeria has had by far the largest daily deaths, but it seems that the Algerians were able to bring down that death rate down (although it might be on the rise again).

Here again it looks like Sudan’s new daily deaths might be on the rise, while Egypt’s is on a plateau.

3. New Daily Tests

Information about testing is scarce. As this graph shows, only Tunisia and Morocco have made that information available to the international community (even then, both countries have missing data for the most recent week). This graph tells us that testing is still very low for both countries, as it is less than 0.15/thousand (at its peak). By way of comparison, Spain has deployed 65 tests / thousand, South Africa 7 tests / thousands, and the US 36 tests / thousand (Source: Worldometers)

If we look at progression, however, we can conclude that Morocco is doing a good job increasing its testing capacity as it tries to control the pandemic.

4. Daily % of tests that came out positive (out of new daily administred tests)

A final indicator that could give us a comparative view of the pandemic is the share of daily tests that come out positive. This is a useful measure because it intuitively provides a combined view of testing capacity and confirmed cases: If we increase testing, but the percentage of positive cases is the same, then we are in trouble (read this article to understand why this is an important statistic).

In North Africa, good news for Morocco and Tunisia, whose share of positive cases has been steeply decreasing.

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