We are hearing a lot about the curve these days. “Flatten the curve” has become the catchcry of the coronavirus pandemic.
Which curve are we aiming to flatten?
We’re all familiar with that hockeystick line that shows confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia rising into the sky.
The truth is, this chart has looked much the same since the beginning of March, whether we had 200 or 2000 cases.
That linear curve will never flatten while any number of cases are added to our total. It is not particularly useful in helping us track our progress or compare ourselves against other countries.
To do that, we need a chart like this.
To see each country’s trajectory line on its own or to compare countries of your choosing, click in the Select region box within this chart and choose the countries you want.
Each line represents a country’s cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases since their 100th case. We start at case 100 to skip to a point of critical mass and look at countries side by side in the “same moment in time” in relation to the virus.
This is the chart that tells a story, not only about the progression of the disease, but each country’s response.
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The top pink line is China (tap the chart for real numbers). You can see cases grow exponentially and flatten out. This was achieved through extreme and often authoritarian measures including locking down hundreds of millions of people.
South Korea (the second pink line) looked like it might go in a similar direction. Cases in the country spiralled out of control at around case number 30.
But the nation managed to arrest the growth through a range of measures that included wide scale testing and advanced, targeted isolation and quarantines.
Italy and Spain are still on the rise and the effects of their current measures — nationwide lockdowns — are yet to be seen.
The USA’s trajectory is frightening and is a textbook example of exponential growth (select it from the dropdown menu to get a single view).
Take a look at the point where the USA reaches 10,000 cases. It is around day 17. Now look at how long it took to double that to 20,000: about two days.
Where does Australia fit in all this? We are the red line rising steeply in the centre. We are not in the poor form of other western countries, but our trajectory is clear.
The Morrison government and state and territory leaders have ramped up measures to arrest this growth, with travel restrictions, spatial distancing requirements and shutdowns.
The data lags behind reality. Cases confirmed today tell us what happened in the recent past. We are yet to see the effects of these measures and must wait for them to be absorbed.
As we do that, this is the curve to watch.