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This index helps compare countries’ differing COVID-19 policies

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April 16, 2020

Policy reactions to the COVID-19 emergency have differed from country to country and have also evolved over the past three months. The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford has been tracking responses using a “stringency index.” The index is based on seven indicators of stringency: school closings, workplace closings, cancellation of public events, shutting down of public transport, public information campaigns, restrictions on internal movement, and controls on international travel — all given equal weight.

Like any index, this one is arbitrary and imperfect. But it does allow for comparisons across countries. In fact, Blavatnik tracks 112 countries, the data for 44 of which are shown in the chart. This is where countries stood between March 30 and April 5. Canada was at 81 on the index, the same as Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, South Korea, Nigeria, Portugal, and the Slovak Republic. Five countries had maxed out at 100: India, Israel, Jordan, New Zealand and South Africa. Among countries that had imposed fewer restrictions, five equalled the U.S. with a score of 67, while Sweden, Iceland, Singapore and Taiwan were even lower. Iceland, Singapore and Taiwan are known for aggressive testing and followup but, at least in the first week of April, had shut down relatively few social activities. Facing increases in community infections, Singapore has since increased its lockdown.

The obvious challenge is to try to figure out whether higher stringency scores are associated with better COVID-19 results. The now well-known difficulty of comparing results across countries that test for COVID-19 according to different guidelines and with different frequency and which don’t follow the same conventions for attributing deaths to the virus means a convincing answer to that question is likely to take time.

— William Watson


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