The imposition of lockdowns during the covid-19 pandemic had one overarching aim: to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Governments hoped to space out infections, buying time to build capacity. In the end, however, much of this extra capacity went unused. England’s seven “Nightingale” hospitals closed having received only a few patients, as did many of America’s field hospitals. A study of Europe’s experience in Health Policy, a journal, found only one example where there were more covid patients than intensive-care beds: in the Italian region of Lombardy on April 3rd 2020. Although there are now stories of overwhelmed Chinese hospitals, as the country confronts a great exit wave, it is too soon to know whether these are isolated examples or represent broader, systematic failure.
Outside China, covid weighs less on people’s minds these days. Yet health-care systems in the rich world are closer to collapse than at any point since the disease started to spread. Unlike for unemployment or gdp, there are few comparable, up-to-date figures on health care across countries. So The Economist has trawled statistics produced by countries, regions and even individual hospitals to paint a picture of what is going on. The results suggest patients, doctors and nurses did not escape the worst effects of the pandemic. Instead, the effects seem to have been delayed.