Revisiting the islands

On April 19, I did a post discussing the progress of various islands and quasi-islands. Let’s revisit what I said about those places:

1. Greenland had 11 cases, and now has zero. It was the first island to exterminate the virus.

2. Faeroe Islands had 185 cases. There are only 11 active cases today, and no new infections since April 6. No deaths, and no one is in serious or critical condition. They will likely eliminate the disease within a few weeks.

Greenland is still Covid-19 free, and Faeroe Island has now eliminated the disease as well.

3. Iceland has had 1771 cases and gets about 10 new ones each day, with the number steadily declining.  They will probably no longer be getting new cases after a few more weeks, and then in another 6 weeks or so will be virus free.  They’ve had 9 deaths.  Iceland is important because unlike Greenland and Faeroe Islands it’s a statistically significant sample.  Within a month or so we’ll have a good idea as to how many Icelanders will eventually die of the disease (I’d guess about 15), and this will begin to pin down the actual fatality rate.  

Today Iceland has only 10 deaths (fewer than I expected) and it will likely stay there as they have only 3 active cases (vs. 471 on April 19th.) I am no longer confident that these islands will get precisely to zero, due to inbound cases. But I do expect zero active cases excluding inbound passengers in quarantine.

4.  New Zealand has had 1431 cases and gets about 10 new ones a day, with the number steadily declining.  In other words, very much like Iceland.  As in Iceland, active cases are also falling very fast.  They’ve had 12 deaths, a modestly higher rate than Iceland.  This makes sense given that they’ve tested less comprehensively than Iceland, and thus missed a few more cases.  The NZ government intends to drive the case total to zero, at which time normal life can resume.

New Zealand had 507 active cases on April 19, and now they have 8. They’ve had no new cases for six days, and hence they’ll soon have no cases at all, except perhaps quarantined inbound passengers.

You see a similar pattern in other islands.  Taiwan had a spike of new cases today from a ship in their navy, but otherwise has almost stopped community transmission. Hawaii has bent the curve more than other American states. 

Taiwan’s active caseload has fallen from 225 to 14, and is still falling. Hawaii’s active caseloads is down to 27, and is falling fast. Both places will soon be virus free, except quarantined inbound passengers.

I’d also like to point to some quasi-islands:

1.  Australia looks a lot like New Zealand and nothing at all like Canada (which it closely resembled during the early weeks of the crisis.)  Its active caseload is falling fast, as is community transmission.  The mortality rate so far is a bit over 1%.  That will rise modestly, but of course they missed some cases.

2.  South Korea’s hard border with the North makes it a quasi-island.  Active cases are falling very fast, with rapidly declining community transmission.  The reported mortality rate is over 2%, but of course they missed some cases.

3.  Hong Kong has only 4 deaths in 1026 cases, and only 8 are in serious or critical condition.  Community transmission has almost stopped and active caseloads are falling fast.  Macao had only 45 cases, no deaths, and community transmission has stopped.

Australia has gone from 2311 to 467 active cases (about where NZ was in mid-April.) South Korea has gone from 2385 to 735 active cases, despite a recent second wave. Hong Kong has gone from 420 to 28 active cases. Macao has gone from 28 to zero.

In other words, I was mostly correct in assuming that island cases would continue to fall rapidly. There are many other success stories that I failed to mention in the April 19 post, also continuing to do very well—trending toward zero.

The next step will be to try to get tourism going again with other countries having virtually zero community transmission. Safe spaces.

Thank God for Chinese tourists!

PS. New Zealand uses a quite expansive definition when calculating coronavirus deaths.



15 Responses to “Revisiting the islands”

  1. Gravatar of Carl Soane Carl Soane
    28. May 2020 at 11:16

    The fact that Hawaii is doing as well as it is argues for the possibility that at least some of what is being attributed to superior coronavirus behavior by a number of island countries may simply be attributable to being islands. Hawaii, at least in deaths per million is not that far off Japan and S. Korea (which you point out is effectively an island). The big landmass/big population countries–US, Brazil, India, Russia–with the exception of China are now starting to dominate the deaths and China is having to throw 100m people into extreme lockdowns every so often. Jared Diamond would not be surprised.

  2. Gravatar of james james
    28. May 2020 at 11:49

    while Sumner researches Covid-19 statistics on remote Islands, the CCP continues their march forward, unabated, and with malicious intention.
    As the clock ticks, and the hour approaches midnight, academics appear to be doing what they do best – fall silent! How about speaking up for democracy? How about a blog post on HK? How about petitioning your congressmen and senators to confront the CCP now before millions of youth have to once again be sent to die for the very freedoms that allow you to sit behind that desk and muse.

  3. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    28. May 2020 at 15:08

    No man is an island.

    Also, southeast Asia remains a curious enigma in the covid-19 world. Porous borders, weak state capacity, and extremely low c-19 infection rates.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. May 2020 at 15:18

    Carl, Yes, but what is the explanation?

    James, I did a post on HK earlier today. Feel free to leave a comment.

  5. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    28. May 2020 at 16:44

    Now you’re asking me to think…If I think of a country as a network, I have to believe that island countries have clearer articulation points than the large landmass countries.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. May 2020 at 18:04

    Carl, If it’s large size that matters, should we address this problem at the state level. Turn the US into 50 states, each with their own Covid-19 policy?

  7. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    28. May 2020 at 23:41

    I still don’t understand the point of grouping by islands especially when you’re leaving Great Britain and Manhattan out. It would be just as random to classify the group you’ve selected as places whose names start with the letters in the middle two quartiles of the alphabet.

    P.S. The U.S. has an equally expansive definition. If you have Covid and get hit by an asteroid, it’s a Covid death.

  8. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    28. May 2020 at 23:58

    BTW – I agree with you on Hong Kong.

  9. Gravatar of Ew Ew
    29. May 2020 at 02:01


    You miss characterized NZ versus Iceland re death rate. NZ has about 14 times the population and a much lower death rate.

  10. Gravatar of Andrew Andrew
    29. May 2020 at 05:02

    Given the advantages that being an island provides, the UK must stand doubly condemned.

  11. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    29. May 2020 at 05:12


    I agree with dtoh. I don’t see the point of grouping by islands either. All regions and/or countries where the pandemic started at a particular (early) point in time are now experiencing (sharply) decreasing case numbers. This is the way pandemics run.

    I don’t understand Matt Yglesias post about Hong Kong either. He seems ideologically biased and partisan. From a purely neutral point of view, both measures have been around for a relatively long time, how does the good man want to separate exactly which measure works how and whether it harms Cuba or not?

    The one final result seems to be quite identical for both parallel measures anyway: The communists in Cuba are still very much in power. –> Truth hurts, maybe even for dogmatists such as Matt.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. May 2020 at 09:37

    dtoh, I pick places I find interesting. If you don’t then that’s fine.

    The NZ women did not have Covid-19. She died after already being cured.

    NZ now has one active case. Why would I wish to discuss failures like the UK?

    Ew, No, I did not mischaracterize their death rates, indeed I never discussed their death rates per capita. I was discussing the death rate per reported case. I’ve been to both places, and am well aware of the population difference.

    Christian, Your comments on Cuba are bizarre even by your standards. We’ve had sanctions on Cuba for 60 years with the goal of removing Castro’s regime, and it’s totally failed. Somehow you think that fact counts in favor of sanctions proponents like yourself and against sanctions skeptics like Matt Yglesias. LOL.

    As for the immigration of Cubans, his point was obviously that it helps the US, not Cuba. Sigh.

  13. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    29. May 2020 at 13:36


    You are right, I know it sounds weird and autistic, even for me, but I really mean it.

    First of all, I doubt it was really the one and only goal to remove the Castros from power. Most of all it was a reaction and a punishment.

    Removing the Castros from power depends on a great many factors, it is a very complex goal, comparing this to the simple immigration of Cuban exiles is ridiculous.

    Nor should one ever move the goalposts if one wants to compare two approaches directly. Take exactly the same goalposts, even if it sounds autistic at first.

    So how successful were sanctions to remove the Castros from power? Not very successful. How successful was mass emigration? Equally unsuccessful. On the contrary, with hindsight, one must even argue that it was extremely counterproductive: Most of the intelligentsia, most of the elite, most of the opposition, and whole future generations have emigrated. This is a really great idea if you want to change a country for the better.

    The Castros must have been really happy about this, they got rid of most resistance easy, and now the Exiles even send hard foreign cash, not such a bad deal.

    Maybe even the intro of Scarface is partially right and Castro got rid of his worst criminals, too. Even better for the Castros.

    Now we take goalpost number two: How successful was it for the US to allow immigration from Cuba? You guys say it was very successful. Whatever. I don’t have any data on that. But if this was really the goal, then the sanctions were equally successful: life in Cuba became so unbearable that the most adaptable people emigrated. HUGE SUCCESS for the US! WIN. Yeaaaaah.

  14. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    29. May 2020 at 13:40


    I agree. The places are interesting. It’s just the grouping that is meaningless

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. May 2020 at 10:51

    Christian, You really think that is clever?

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