The novel coronavirus has crept its way through almost every country across the globe for over a year now, resulting in more than 196 million cases and over 4.2 million deaths.

Some countries have dealt with these chaotic months better than others. Lockdowns were imposed at different times, various strategies were considered, and restrictions varied in severity from government to government.

Over time, countries have also rapidly rolled out COVID-19 vaccines – along with COVID passports – in a bid to fight the virus.

But which countries have dealt with this pandemic the best? Is there a reason why certain countries haven’t had such a high number of cases? And how well are governments reopening their economies? Let’s find out.

Woman wearing surgical mask going through crosswalk in midtown manhattan

A woman strolls down empty streets in New York during lockdown

Methodology

We’ve based our study on several different measures of how countries have handled COVID-19 the best and worst by looking at death rates per million people, cases per million people, vaccination rollouts, and how countries have re-opened their economies.

We’ve based our findings on a collection of data sourced from Our World In Data, as well as government reports.

These results are correct as of 29 July 2021. Moving forward, we will be updating our figures monthly.

Countries with the most COVID-19 deaths per million people

CountryNumber of deaths per million people
Peru5,941.13
Hungary3,107.55
Bosnia and Herzegovina2,949.57
Czechia2,834.72
San Marino2,651.89

1. Peru

Deaths per million people: 5,941.13

The Peruvian government hasn’t exactly been transparent with its COVID-19 figures. In June 2021, Peru’s government revealed that the country's official COVID-19 death toll was over 180,000, instead of the reported 69,342.

Like many other South American countries, Peru has suffered massively from new variants of COVID-19, pushing its death rate up even higher. The new Lambda variant, for example, has the highest mortality rate out of the new strains, and was first found in Peru in December 2020. It has since spread to 29 nations around the world.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that around 82% of COVID-19 cases in Peru are associated with the Lambda variant.

2. Hungary

Deaths per million people: 3,107.55

At the beginning of the pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán claimed that COVID-19 infections would peak exactly on 3 May 2020 and, as a result, ordered the gradual easing of lockdown measures on that date. By 16 June, the government lifted virtually all coronavirus restrictions and officially ended a state of emergency. The country now has the second highest COVID-19 death rate in the world.

This dismissive attitude is something that the Hungarian government has continued throughout the pandemic, up to present day.

Despite cases rising in September 2020, the government did not introduce measures to protect people most at risk – there was no mask mandate and no mass testing. Even the UEFA Super Cup took place in Budapest with a capacity of 20,000 spectators.

3. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Deaths per million people: 2,949.57

Initially, Bosnia and Herzegovina managed to keep COVID-19 under control. The government even imposed strict bans on anyone over 65 leaving their home for any reason – even for a short walk, to get groceries, or go to the pharmacy.

The second and third waves, however, increased death rates massively. Some commentators and experts pinned the blame on the government for reopening the border, whilst authorities blamed citizens, employers, and business owners for not following the recommended measures. 

In April 2021, over 1,000 people marched through Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, to demand the government’s resignation over its poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

4. Czechia

Deaths per million people: 2,834.72

Czechia was praised for its initial response to the coronavirus crisis – 18 months later, things have gone extremely wrong.

Dr Rastislav Maďar, one of the country's top epidemiologists, points to three main causes of Czechia’s downfall. Firstly, the government decided to overrule its own advisers, including Maďar himself, and refused to reinstate a mask mandate in the summer. Shops were then reopened ahead of Christmas, and the government failed to address the new variant that popped up in early January.

The seriousness of adhering to the rules was also undermined when Czech Health Minister Roman Prymula was caught by a tabloid newspaper breaking the rules that he put in place. After this, many citizens questioned the COVID safety measures.

5. San Marino

Deaths per million people: 2,651.89

Despite efforts to keep COVID at bay, San Marino’s location made it near-impossible to fend off the virus. This mountainous microstate is surrounded by north-central Italy – the first country outside of China to officially contract cases of the virus.

After its first confirmed case at the end of February, San Marino went into immediate lockdown – ten days before Italy did. Entry in or out of the country was banned except for work or health reasons, which is why experts assume the virus was brought to San Marino by commuters travelling outside its territory.

The country’s tiny population also means its ‘deaths per million' figure is extremely high. By April 2020, the population of just 33,344 had reported one death for every 981 inhabitants. 

Countries with the fewest COVID-19 deaths per million people

CountryDeaths per million people
Tanzania0.35
Burundi0.67
Laos0.69
Bhutan2.59
China3.22

1. Tanzania

Deaths per million people: 0.35

Tanzania was quick to respond to the virus. Between February and April 2020, the Tanzanian Government implemented various WHO-recommended measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing and mandatory masks. 

However, unlike many successful countries, Tanzania did not implement a lockdown, since the government suggested it would restrict public access to health services – especially for patients with chronic conditions like tuberculosis and HIV, which are both prevalent diseases in the country.

Government officials also suggested lockdown could have also prevented citizens from working, and affected households' access to food or healthcare – a mistake quickly overlooked in some countries, such as India.

2. Burundi

Deaths per million people: 0.67

Burundi had a rocky start at the beginning of the pandemic. Former President Pierre Nkurunziza, who died in June 2020 (with speculation that he’d contracted COVID-19), had dismissed the disease and claimed his country was protected by God.

The country’s new President, Evariste Ndayishimiye, later declared that COVID-19 was the country’s “biggest enemy,” and implemented stricter measures.

Burundi also had help from UNICEF when COVID-19 emerged. The organisation set up a huge communication campaign, promoting handwashing to stop the transmission of the virus, as well as making soap more affordable and accessible for Burundians.

3. Laos

Deaths per million people: 0.69

Ultimately, it was the government’s quick reaction to the virus which led Laos onto a successful path.

Just five days after the country’s first case was confirmed, on 24 March, the government announced a strict lockdown and closed all borders. 

The lockdown lasted nearly seven weeks, while international arrivals continued to be restricted until June 2020. The government implemented social distancing rules and ordered non-essential businesses to close. Everybody, except for essential workers, was required to stay home unless accessing food or medical assistance, and schools were closed.

By September 2020, months after schools and travel networks had reopened, only 23 cases had been identified – the first COVID-19–related death was not reported until 9th May 2021.

4. Bhutan

Deaths per million people: 2.59

Bhutan was not predicted to handle the coronavirus pandemic well. When the outbreak initially happened, the country only had 337 physicians for a population of around 760,000 – less than half the WHO’s recommended ratio of doctors to people – and only one of these physicians had advanced training in critical care.

It was the government’s impeccable communication that kept COVID-19 cases down, with officials issuing clear, concise daily updates and creating COVID-19 helplines for citizens. The health ministry also rolled out an initiative calledOur Gyenkhu (Our Responsibility), which spread awareness of COVID-19 through influencers, actors, visual artists, bloggers, and sports personalities.

On top of this, the country barred tourists, closed schools and public institutions, began flexible working hours, introduced a successful track and trace program, and continuously called for face masks and social distancing.

5. China

Deaths per million people: 3.22

China has impressively managed to keep the death rates down, despite it being the suspected origin country for the virus. But what’s China’s secret to success?

Well, it certainly helped that most Chinese adults remember SARS-CoV from 2003, and the high mortality rate that came with it. The level of strict measures also prevented the virus from spreading so easily.

Wuhan was placed under a strict lockdown that lasted 76 days and public transport was suspended. Similar measures were also implemented in every city in the Hubei province soon afterwards. Dozens of cities imposed family outdoor restrictions, which typically meant that only one member of each household was permitted to leave the home every couple of days to collect necessary supplies.

As of July 2021, the UK has a population 20 times smaller than China, yet it has seen roughly 27 times as many COVID-19 deaths. 

Countries with the highest and lowest number of COVID-19 cases

Countries around the world have struggled to keep the notoriously contagious COVID-19 case numbers down. For some, that has meant a number of strict lockdowns, whilst others have continued with stringent social distancing measures.

Below, we’ve listed the countries with the most COVID-19 cases per million people:

CountryCases per million people
Andorra188,662.40
Seychelles183,668.90
Montenegro161,141.73
Bahrain157,868.29
Czechia156,181.70

Andorra implemented a strict lockdown from 13 March 2020, but it was the second wave that led to its spike in cases – the same goes for the small country of Seychelles. Thankfully, both nations are pushing forward with their vaccination rollouts, which will have prevented lots of deaths.

Montenegro’s second wave also explains its high numbers. It has been suggested, however, that 65% of those infected during this period were under the age of 50 – making them less likely to end up with serious side effects.

As for Bahrain, unfortunately, this country’s small population has a big influence on its ‘deaths per million' figure, despite the government’s strict measures, quick response, and an efficient vaccination rollout. The WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean office actually commended Bahrain’s swift and effective countermeasures against COVID-19 as an example that other countries should follow.

There is also a number of countries that have been able to stop the spread of COVID-19 at their borders. Below we’ve listed the countries with the lowest number of cases per million people:

CountryCases per million people
Tanzania8.52
Micronesia (country)8.69
Vanuatu13.02
Samoa15.12
Kiribati16.74

Although it might not seem possible, there are even a handful of countries that are COVID-free.

Countries with the best COVID-19 vaccination rollout

As it stands, 27.5% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 13.9% is fully vaccinated. Although this is great news, unfortunately, only 1.1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

But which countries are leading the way in the COVID-19 vaccination race? Check out the table below:

CountryPercentage of people partly vaccinated against COVID-19Percentage of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19Total amount of doses given
UAE78.9%70.3%16.6 million
Malta78.8%74.4%0.8 million
Bahrain67.3%63.8%2.3 million
Uruguay 73.7%62.7%4.7 million
Chile72.7%63.7%25.3 million
Poor area of Mumbai, India

India's hasty reopening of the economy led the country into a second wave of COVID-19

How have countries handled reopening post-COVID?

New Zealand

Whilst gradually opening up the economy over the past year, New Zealand has still been swift to respond to new cases. In November, for example, health authorities partially shut down the central city of Auckland, after just one student became infected with COVID-19. Aukland has since been rated as the most liveable city in the world, thanks to its response.

In response to calls for borders to be opened to the world, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern painted a picture of “a world where the virus is escalating, not slowing and not even peaking in some countries yet, where cases exceed 10 million globally and deaths half a million, where countries are extending and returning to lockdown. All of the while, we get to enjoy weekend sport, go to restaurants and bars, our workplaces are open, and we can gather in whatever numbers we like.”

Iceland

Iceland has also managed to simultaneously boost its economy and have one of the lowest death rates in the world.

As a country that relies on tourism, opening the borders to tourists has helped Iceland’s economy get back on track. This has been done safely with the help of the country’s effective track and trace system, rigorous testing, and social distancing.

The UK

The UK seems to have taken an ‘all or nothing’ approach to reopening the economy. After a summer of low cases, the government released the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme to support the hospitality industry in August 2020. This backfired massively, driving infection rates up by between 8-17%.

This rise in cases led to a strict one-month lockdown in November, which was lifted in December to encourage the retail industry during Christmas. The days leading up to Christmas were also filled with confusion, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson waited until the last minute to increase restrictions.

Boris Johnson was also widely criticised for telling parents that it was safe to send children to school on 4 January 2021, despite announcing the closure of these schools only hours later.

India

Although India's first wave of COVID-19 was deadly, its second wave did far more damage.

At the end of February 2021, India's election campaign begun in full swing with no safety protocols or social distancing. On top of this, in mid-March, the cricket board allowed more than 130,000 fans, mostly unmasked, to watch two international cricket games between India and England at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Gujarat.

Plus, in April 2021, three million people gathered on the shores of the Ganges to take a ritual dip in the holy river – again, with no COVID protocols put in place.

As a result, the ferocious second wave led to full hospitals, shortages of oxygen and other medical supplies, and overflowing crematoriums.

What’s the verdict?

It’s clear to see that time is everything when it comes to the pandemic. Countries that locked down early were able to manage the virus more efficiently – and countries that ignored the virus are now suffering the consequences. Of course, there are some countries that implemented fairly strict measures early on, but just didn’t have the money or infrastructure to deal with it.

Although the virus seems to be plateauing in some countries, researchers have suggested that this may be the first pandemic of many. So, let's hope all countries are more ready and prepared for the next one.