Downward trend in the indices of death rate in the Covid-19 pandemic: Evaluating alternative hypotheses

In the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, in the global data on the case fatality ratio and other indices reflecting death rate, there is a consistent downward trend from mid-April to mid-August. The downward trend can be an illusion caused by biases and limitations of data or it could faithfully reflect a declining death rate. A variety of explanations for this trend are possible, but a systematic analysis of the testable predictions of the alternative hypotheses has not yet been attempted. We state six testable alternative hypotheses, analyse their testable predictions using public domain data and evaluate their relative contributions to the downward trend. We show that a decline in the death rate is real; changing age structure of the infected population and evolution of the virus towards reduced virulence are the most supported hypotheses and together contribute to major part of the trend. The testable predictions from other explanations including altered testing efficiency, time lag, improved treatment protocols and herd immunity are not consistently supported, or do not appear to make a major contribution to this trend although they may influence some other patterns of the epidemic.
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