Red and yellow COVID-19 country lists not perfect, say epidemiologists

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The Center for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC) has painted the world map in yellow and red, according to the severity of COVID-19 spread. Epidemiologists are in  different minds about how objective these lists are, Latvian Radio reported August 27.

In Latvia, "yellow" countries mean that the incidence of COVID-19 in the last 14 days is 16 people out of 100,000,  but if there are at least 25 cases of 100 000, the country should be included in the "red" list.

The views of epidemiologists on the objectivity of the “red-yellow” country lists differ.

Elina Dimiņa, head of the SPKC's Disease Monitoring and Immunization Division, said that COVID-19 indicators should be viewed with caution as there are different testing policies in European countries. Also, in countries with a small population, each case causes a much more dramatic increase in rates.

“This means, in any case, that when you are in this country, the possibility of contacting a COVID-19 positive person is greater than in a country with a lower incidence rate in these 14 days,” said Dimiņa.

She also explained that the two limit values - 16 and 25 people per 100 000 inhabitants - have not been set randomly. 16 is the number of average rates in the European Union at the time when the virus had calmed down, while 25 is the threshold at which the incidence rate of the worst phase in Latvia would be exceeded.

The fact that the data should be viewed carefully is also pointed out by associate professor of medicine at the University of Latvia, Liliāna Civjāne, head of the epidemiology and medical statistics study program.

She is generally skeptical about listing on the basis of the information currently available.

“Can we say that everywhere [cases are] counted equally — no. Of course, the more tests, the more cases we discover. And there are those cases we don't see, which are those “quiet cases.” We won't discover them if one doesn't have symptoms. If a person doesn't have symptoms, he won't go check. So we don't really know today how many cases there are. No one can know that because not everybody is tested,” said Civjāne.

She admitted that a more objective criterion was not available at the moment to see the infection rate.

The solution would be to perform these tests for a randomly selected part of the population in each country, then the real rate could also be seen. However, it would be very expensive and time-consuming.

A company which is heavily influenced by the red-and-yellow coloring of the world map is the national airline airBaltic. Its representative Didzis Rudmanis said that the company relies on specialists' estimates and this has a strong influence on the airline's activities.

“On the basis of the current weekly report from the SPKC, airBaltic continues to review and adjust its flight schedule accordingly. In a situation where travel restrictions are changing regularly, airBaltic needs to be more flexible. Undeniably, the current rules limit the business, but we look at it with understanding. The countries that are included in the red list - flights cannot go to these countries,” Rudmanis said.

The red and yellow list countries for Latvia are currently 25 in total. The list is to be updated Friday.

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