Coronavirus death rates in South Korea reinforce a frightening pattern of how the disease affects older people

A worker sprays disinfectant at a Daegu, South Korea, railway station on February 26. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 100 countries, infected more than 121,000 people, and caused over 4,300 deaths.

The South Korean Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has been releasing regular reports on case counts and death rates in that country. The most recent report, which showed the effects of the disease through March 11, reinforced the trend of the disease being far more dangerous for older patients than for younger people.

The report counts a total of 7,755 cases through March 11 and 60 deaths, for a total death rate of 0.77%. That is far lower than the reported death rates in several other countries. A major factor in that lower death rate could be the country’s extremely thorough coronavirus-testing policies: Many milder cases included in South Korea’s overall count might not be noticed in countries like the US, where testing is more sparse.

While South Korea reported 2,718 cases among patients under 30 as of March 11, there were zero deaths from COVID-19 among those younger patients. Only one patient between the ages of 30 and 39 had died, and only one patient in their 40s died.

Older patients, however, were more likely to die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Patients older than 80 had a 7.2% death rate through March 11:

Covid 19 death rate by age south korea 3 11 20

The higher death rates among older patients reinforce the frightening trend of COVID-19 being more dangerous for older patients that was seen in a similar report from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. While death rates overall were much higher in China than in South Korea, the breakdown by patients’ age follows a strikingly similar pattern:

Covid 19 mortality rate by age chart china

This pattern, if it continues elsewhere, suggests alarming consequences for countries with older populations. Italy, which now has the highest number of cases outside China, has one of the oldest populations in the world. That ageing population could be especially susceptible to the disease.