America — the bastion of science, technology and the very best medicine money can buy.

And yet, with only 4% of the world’s population, America had a much larger percentage of COVID-19 deaths that its population would suggest. It is #1 in a category that no one wants to be the winner – total deaths from COVID-19. * Note. I do not for a minute believe the data on China. More on that in another post.

***Disclaimer 1: As WMConnelley pointed out correctly, the data on deaths and cases should be taken with a large salt lick only because data collection, definitions and reliability as well as reporting varies between countries. Data from some countries will be more reliable while others will not for a variety of reasons. That being noted, I can only use the data that is available, so while I recognize the data is not completely reliable, we can still use it to look at the larger picture, and that is my goal.

***Disclaimer 2: Why did I use the US data instead of some other nation? Why not Canada or the UK? Do I hate the USA? Do I have TDS(tm)? No. I love the USA. It has been a light in the darkness on many issues relevant to modern humans. However, it is currently riven by politics and tribalism, been subject to demagoguery and deception on a massive scale. That has led to a cynicism towards government, science and expertise that is at the root of why the US failed to respond more robustly to the pandemic and why so many died who didn’t have to die. This can be said of many other modern post-industrial liberal democratic nations, like the UK, Canada, and others. That is what I find alarming and it does not bode well for our futures.

You have to scroll all the way down to #107 to find Australia:

As of today, America still has the most COVID-19 deaths, although it is not possible to be certain that those numbers are accurate. Whatever the case, 616,440 is a tragedy when you compare America to Australia. It is #20 in number of deaths per million population at 1,852 — just behind the UK and just above Mexico.

Compare that to Australia, which has put most industrial nations to shame. Australia has 7% of the population of the US, and 0.1% of the number of deaths. 910 vs 616,440.

If Australia had done as poor a job as the US, they would have had about 40,000 deaths.

Why the difference?

Here’s a cogent analysis of why and how the US failed, from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Ed Yong:

A sluggish response by a government denuded of expertise allowed the coronavirus to gain a foothold. Chronic underfunding of public health neutered the nation’s ability to prevent the pathogen’s spread. A bloated, inefficient health-care system left hospitals ill-prepared for the ensuing wave of sickness. Racist policies that have endured since the days of colonization and slavery left Indigenous and Black Americans especially vulnerable to COVID‑19. The decades-long process of shredding the nation’s social safety net forced millions of essential workers in low-paying jobs to risk their life for their livelihood. The same social-media platforms that sowed partisanship and misinformation during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa and the 2016 U.S. election became vectors for conspiracy theories during the 2020 pandemic.

Leadership was to blame in large part. Trump failed at leadership, full-stop. He “denuded” government of expertise, as Yong notes. Instead of appointing the very best people, which he claimed, he appointed people who would be loyal and who would toe his line. When faced with it, Trump’s tendency was to BS and act like he knew more than even the experts. We’ve all seen the clips, so there’s no need to post them here. 

Oh, heck. I will.

Trump admitted in his interview with Woodward that he always downplayed the pandemic, that he knew it was bad — worse than a strenuous flu and airborne.

So he knew that the pandemic was very dangerous, and yet, he did not act on that knowledge. He did not marshal the federal government’s resources to tackle the threat head on. Instead, he denied it. He didn’t want to “panic” — the market, people, voters.

Because of his inaction, his refusal to follow the science instead of downplaying the danger, months were wasted that could have been used to stop the initial spread. As a result, cases rose, hospitalizations rose, ICU admissions rose, and deaths rose. Hospitals were overwhelmed. 

How did Australia get it so right?

Here’s a timeline of the Australian response to the COVID-19 pandemic

  • On the 23rd of January, Australian biosecurity officers began screening flights arriving in Sydney from Wuhan.
  • On the 25th of January, Australia registered its first case of COVID-19.
  • On the 30th of January, the WHO announced “a public health emergency of international concern”.
  • On the 27th of February, the Prime Minister of Australia activated the nation’s Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus.
  • In March, the government announced a stimulus plan and measures to slow the spread, including contract tracing, testing and voluntary self-isolation of incoming travellers. 
  • In late March, the government introduced lockdown measures to restrict travel and gatherings, physical distancing and international and national border controls.
  • On the 20th of March, Australia’s borders were closed to all travellers.
  • Non-essential services and many schools were closed.
  • Additional aid packages were provided to offset the costs of the shutdown. Free childcare was offered.
  • When cases and deaths declined, the country was opened up, but would then be closed down again when new clusters of cases arose.

In other words, the Australian government took decisive steps to shut down travel, both international and national, did extensive contract tracing, testing and provided ample support for individuals and families affected by the lockdowns. Australia stopped the pandemic in its tracks.

America let it fester, trying to prevent economic fallout, at the cost of people’s lives. 

Hence, the monumental difference between the American and Australian results.

Government can make the difference.

If they want to.

America could have followed Australia’s lead — every developed nation could have, my country of Canada included. But we didn’t and have had far worse outcomes.

The Australians listened to the science, followed the science, their governments acted decisively, and as a consequence, they have had a much better outcome.

Listen to the science. Privilege the lives of people over profit. 

So, to me, the biggest cause of America’s failure and Australia’s success? 


One government listened to the science and acted decisively. The other didn’t.

Here is the Australian government’s Plan. It is extensive and it should be studied because this is not going to be the last pandemic we face.

There are other factors involved in the poor response by America and other nations to the pandemic, which I will explore in other upcoming posts.