A Gravity Solution to the Puzzling Low Number of COVID-19 Deaths in East Asia

Discussion Papers

No.793

by Satoru Kumagai

June 2020

ABSTRACT

The number of deaths from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) differs dramatically by country. The surprisingly low number of deaths from COVID-19 in several East Asian countries is a puzzle and we propose a different explanation for the variation in the number of deaths by country, the geographical distance from an epicenter of COVID-19. Combined with the gross domestic product for each country, we can explain the country variation in the number of deaths for more than 100 countries surprisingly well. By introducing these control variables, we can also correctly estimate the impacts of policy response and social/economic conditions. Adjusted by the gravity control variables, the difference in the number of deaths in European and American countries and East Asian countries becomes much smaller, from a factor of several hundred to a single digit, proposing a simple but powerful solution to the puzzle.

Keywords: COVID-19, gravity model, number of deaths

JEL classification: I10, C10, F10

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