Israel and Covid-19: better than most OECD members

Signs at the entrance to Hadassah Hospital in March 2020

This note presents a statistical analysis of the 36 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as of May 5, 2020, looking at their rate of Covid-19 deaths per million of population.  It finds that Israel’s fatality rate is lower than 22 countries but higher than 13 countries. 

The ten worst countries in the OECD by this measure are Belgium, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, United States, and Switzerland, in that order.

The ten best countries in the group by this measure are Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Slovakia, South Korea, Latvia, Greece, Chile, Lithuania and Mexico, in that order.

This analysis has looked at the number of fatalities rather than the number of confirmed cases because the latter figure depends very much of the extent and accuracy of testing, which varies greatly among the countries in the sample.

It is recognized that some countries may have consciously under-reported fatalities;  however, it is hoped that that is not the case for members of the OECD.  It has been argued that the number of deaths attributed to Covid-19 is likely an understatement in most countries. A comparison of total reported deaths in recent months with average numbers of deaths for these months in previous years better captures the differential number due to Covid-19.  However, at this time such data are not yet available for all OECD countries.  Therefore, the analysis looks at the Covid-19 deaths reported in the Johns Hopkins database.

The table below shows for each OECD country its total population, the number of reported Covid-19 deaths as of May 5, the resulting number of deaths per million population, and the deaths/million ratio relative to Israel’s deaths/million.   Countries are listed in order of their number of deaths per million population.

OECD reported deaths deaths/million as
member population deaths from per million multiple of Israel’s
(millions) Covid-19 population deaths/million
Belgium 11.5 7,924 689 26.75
Spain 47 25,428 541 21.00
Italy 60 29,079 485 18.81
United Kingdom 66 28,809 437 16.94
France 67 25,204 376 14.60
Netherlands 17.5 5,098 291 11.31
Ireland 4.9 1,319 269 10.45
Sweden 10.3 2,769 269 10.44
United States 330 68,934 209 8.11
Switzerland 8.6 1,784 207 8.05
Luxembourg 0.6 96 160 6.21
Canada 38 4,003 105 4.09
Portugal 10.3 1,063 103 4.01
Denmark 5.8 493 85 3.30
Germany 83 6,993 84 3.27
Austria 8.9 600 67 2.62
Slovenia 2.1 97 46 1.79
Finland 5.5 240 44 1.69
Estonia 1.3 55 42 1.64
Turkey 83 3,461 42 1.62
Norway 5.4 214 40 1.54
Hungary 9.8 363 37 1.44
Israel 9.2 237 26 1.00
Iceland 0.4 10 25 0.97
Czech Republic 10.7 252 24 0.91
Poland 38 698 18 0.71
Mexico 127 2,271 18 0.69
Lithuania 2.8 46 16 0.64
Chile 19.1 270 14 0.55
Greece 10.7 146 14 0.53
Latvia 1.9 17 9 0.35
South Korea 52 254 5 0.19
Slovakia 5.5 25 5 0.18
Japan 126 536 4 0.17
New Zealand 5.0 20 4 0.16
Australia 25.7 97 4 0.15


There has been much criticism of the performance of the U.S. government in its response to the advent of the pandemic, and as ninth worst out of the  36 countries in the list the criticism is certainly justified.  However, the countries of Western Europe clearly have fared much worse in relative terms than the U.S.

It has been widely observed that the age profile of the population is an important determinant of the fatality rate, with countries having a larger share of elderly in their population suffering more deaths.  Other factors include the openness of borders, the extent of foreign travel by a country’s citizens, the adequacy of medical facilities and staffing, and, of course, the timeliness and enforcement of the government’s controls on borders and incoming flights, its social distancing rules, testing, and other protective measures.  Much further analysis of the data is needed to determine the relative contribution of these and other factors to the differences among countries.

While Israel’s favorable ranking undoubtedly reflects, in part, the performance of its government, it has to be acknowledged that Israel has not been among the safest places to have been within the OECD.

As Israel and other countries move to relax the restrictions that have been put in place, in order to promote economic recovery, it is hoped that Israel’s relative ranking won’t suffer over time.

About the Author
Lewis Rosen is a retired economist who has lived in Jerusalem for more than 35 years. Born and educated in the US, he worked for the Office of Economic Opportunity for two years in Washington D.C. and was on the economics faculty of York University in Toronto, Canada for 13 years. In Israel he has been involved in a wide range of business planning and economic analysis projects.