Country-level determinants of the severity of the first global wave of the COVID-19 pandemic: an ecological study

Tiberiu A Pana* (Corresponding Author), Sohinee Bhattacharya, David T Gamble, Zahra Pasdar, Weronika A Szlachetka, Jesus A Perdomo-Lampignano, Kai D Ewers, David J McLernon, Phyo K Myint

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
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Objective We aimed to identify the country-level determinants of the severity of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Design Ecological study of publicly available data. Countries reporting >25 COVID-19 related deaths until 8 June 2020 were included. The outcome was log mean mortality rate from COVID-19, an estimate of the country-level daily increase in reported deaths during the ascending phase of the epidemic curve. Potential determinants assessed were most recently published demographic parameters (population and population density, percentage population living in urban areas, population >65 years, average body mass index and smoking prevalence); economic parameters (gross domestic product per capita); environmental parameters (pollution levels and mean temperature (January–May); comorbidities (prevalence of diabetes, hypertension and cancer); health system parameters (WHO Health Index and hospital beds per 10 000 population); international arrivals; the stringency index, as a measure of country-level response to COVID-19; BCG vaccination coverage; UV radiation exposure; and testing capacity. Multivariable linear regression was used to analyse the data.
Primary outcome Country-level mean mortality rate: the mean slope of the COVID-19 mortality curve during its ascending phase.
Participants Thirty-seven countries were included: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the UK and the USA.
Results Of all country-level determinants included in the multivariable model, total number of international arrivals (beta 0.033 (95% CI 0.012 to 0.054)) and BCG vaccination coverage (−0.018 (95% CI −0.034 to –0.002)), were significantly associated with the natural logarithm of the mean death rate.
Conclusions International travel was directly associated with the mortality slope and thus potentially the spread of COVID-19. Very early restrictions on international travel should be considered to control COVID-19 outbreaks and prevent related deaths.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere042034
Number of pages10
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements We would like to thank Dr Kathryn Martin, who provided valuable advice in study design.
Funding This work was supported by the Aberdeen Clinical Academic Training Scheme.


  • epidemiology
  • infectious diseases
  • public health
  • Temperature
  • Age Factors
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Male
  • Young Adult
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Europe/epidemiology
  • Population Density
  • Pandemics/statistics & numerical data
  • Adult
  • Asia/epidemiology
  • Female
  • Neoplasms/epidemiology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diabetes Mellitus/epidemiology
  • Air Pollution/statistics & numerical data
  • Hypertension/epidemiology
  • Social Determinants of Health/statistics & numerical data
  • Smoking/epidemiology
  • Travel
  • Africa/epidemiology
  • Aged
  • Americas/epidemiology


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