How are you getting on over there? Covid deaths on island nations

Part 1. Pre-vaccination. Jan 2020 – April 2021


Each diamond in the graphic represents deaths (per million) every fortnight and thus the X-axis represents the number of fortnights since Jan 1, 2020 (a scale which needs relabelling). Colour and size both correspond to the number of deaths, on a log scale, a schema that highlights overall patterns more than subtler numerical differences. As a result, big dark blobs mean that a lot of people died that fortnight, but you can’t easily see exactly how much worse the UK was than Ireland. The biggest blobs in the top left correspond to March – April 2020 and Nov 2020 – Jan 2021. Click to embiggen


Back in early April, when people in Ireland still couldn’t sit down for a cup of coffee on their Tobler, and vaccine rollout remained a topic of angry conversation, held in parks and on podcasts, I sat down in my bedroom and made this graphic of how Covid-19 had played out across the world’s more populous island nations (100k+ people). We had heard a lot of talk about Taiwan’s great response, and Australia’ and New Zealand’s, but what was going on in the Caribbean or in Pacific archipelagos like Japan The Philippines and Fiji? Was it possible, I wanted to know, to keep  Covid-19 off your island, and how good a job was everyone doing?

Bottom of the class

It turned out that everybody was doing better than Ireland and the UK, whose trajectories had been worryingly similar. Japan had been keeping it at arm’s length, as were Indonesia and The Philippines, while Fiji was basking in zero covid, just like the highly-lauded New Zealand and Singapore. It looked like the Caribbean had had a few nasty outbreaks. Some islands kept a lid on it until early 2021 (e.g. Saint Lucia and Antigua & Barbuda), but The Bahamas looked like it had had a bad Summer of 2020, and this doesn’t surprise me as I had spent Lockdown 1.0 in the US myself and witnessed the re-emergence of the sesh during  the early summer. Presumably this spilt over into the nearby Bahamas, and it would be nice to map the respective trajectories.


It was encouraging to see that Covid had not (yet) ravaged so many other islands, but it was deeply dispiriting to see how badly Ireland had fared.  The clearest pattern, from an Irish point of view, was how closely our Covid story matched the UK’s, albeit always a little behind time. Undoubtedly, there have been a large number of impacting factors, and the spread of the virus was hardly helped by the fact that geographic and political divisions on These Islands do not neatly coincide.


However, the nature of the graphic, using colour and shape to represent patterns more so than numbers, obfuscates the scale of the death in either country.  The UK (1900 deaths per million people) has had double the number of per capita deaths as Ireland (1000), at the time of writing (17 Aug, 2021).  In total, 5059 people have died of (or with) Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland, and 130 979 have died in the UK. To put those numbers in some kind of perspective, 3 532 people died during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, between 1969 and 2001.


Coming soon:

Part 2: The Rich get jabbed

Since April, deaths have almost vanished in highly vaccinated countries like Ireland and the UK, but the rest of the world’s islands have not fared so well. The Caribbean has had it bad, with Trinidad and Tobago having the worst outbreak there, while Cuba’s is growing. Meanwhile, Fiji has recently exploded and the Seychelles can’t kick it. Even Taiwan has had outbreaks, like Australia, but New Zealand have kept it, literally, at bay. Japan have managed to never let it spiral out of control.



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