First COVID-19 Global Forecast: IHME Projects Three-Quarters of a Million Lives Could be Saved by January 1

Published September 3, 2020

‘Deadly December’ estimated with nearly 30,000 deaths each day as winter returns to the Northern Hemisphere 

SEATTLE (3 September 2020) – In the first global projections of the COVID-19 pandemic by nation, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine is predicting nearly 770,000 lives worldwide could be saved between now and January 1 through proven measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing. 

Cumulative deaths expected by January 1 total 2.8 million, about 1.9 million more from now until the end of the year. Daily deaths in December could reach as high as 30,000. 

“These first-ever worldwide projections by country offer a daunting forecast as well as a roadmap toward relief from COVID-19 that government leaders as well as individuals can follow,” said IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray. “We are facing the prospect of a deadly December, especially in Europe, Central Asia, and the United States. But the science is clear and the evidence irrefutable: mask-wearing, social distancing, and limits to social gatherings are vital to helping prevent transmission of the virus.” 

The Institute modeled three scenarios:  

  • A “worse case” in which mask usage stays at current rates and governments continue relaxing social distancing requirements, leading to 4.0 million total deaths by the end of the year;  

  • A “best case” of 2.0 million total deaths if mask usage is near-universal and governments impose social distancing requirements when their daily death rate exceeds 8 per million; and  

  • A “most likely” scenario that assumes individual mask use and other mitigation measures remain unchanged, resulting in approximately 2.8 million total deaths.  

The references to 750,000 lives saved and 30,000 daily deaths in December represent the differences between the “best case” and “most likely” scenarios. 

Each of these scenarios represents a significant increase over the current total deaths, estimated at nearly 910,000 worldwide. The increase is due in part to a likely seasonal rise in COVID-19 cases in the Northern Hemisphere. To date, COVID-19 has followed seasonal patterns similar to pneumonia, and if that correlation continues to hold, northern countries can anticipate more cases in the late fall and winter months. 

“People in the Northern Hemisphere must be especially vigilant as winter approaches, since the coronavirus, like pneumonia, will be more prevalent in cold climates,” Murray said. 

Murray highlighted the unprecedented opportunity to save lives with rapid action. 

“Looking at the staggering COVID-19 estimates, it’s easy to get lost in the enormity of the numbers,” Murray said. “The number of deaths exceeds the capacity of the world’s 50 largest stadiums, a sobering image of the people who have lost their lives and livelihoods.”  

Under the most likely of IHME’s scenarios, the nations with the highest per capita total deaths would be the US Virgin Islands, the Netherlands, and Spain. By WHO region, this scenario projects 959,685 total deaths by January 1 in the Region of the Americas, 667,811 in the European Region, 79,583 in the African Region, 168,711 in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 738,427 in the South-East Asia Region, and 191,598 in the Western Pacific Region. 

“We all must learn from those leaders of nations where the virus has been contained, or where second waves of infections have occurred, and where swift action has been taken to prevent loss of life,” Murray said.  

He also cautioned against pursuing the so-called “herd immunity” strategy, which occurs when a large proportion of a community becomes immune to the virus through infection and recovery. The “worse-case” scenario in these projections reflects a situation where leaders allow transmission to run through their population, resulting in significant loss of life. 

“This first global forecast represents an opportunity to underscore the problem with herd immunity, which, essentially, ignores science and ethics, and allows millions of avoidable deaths,” Murray said. “It is, quite simply, reprehensible.” 

Top 10 nations with the highest cumulative deaths on January 1: 

Worse-case scenario

Most likely scenario

Best-case scenario

India: 916,688 (range of 562,203–1,431,708)

India: 659,537 (range of 415,118–1,087,533)

India: 484,981 (range of 316,111–819,426)

United States of America: 620,029 (range of 463,361–874,649)

United States of America: 410,451 (range of 347,551–515,272)

United States of America: 288,381 (range of 257,286–327,775)

Japan: 287,635 (range of 25,669–758,716)

Brazil: 174,297 (range of 163,982–185,913)

Brazil: 160,567 (range of 152,483–169,483)

Spain: 180,904 (range of 97,665–282,075)

Mexico: 138,828 (range of 125,763–156,493)

Mexico: 130,545 (range of 118,201–147,963)

Brazil: 177,299 (range of 166,656–189,259)

Japan: 120,514 (range of 10,301–492,791)

Japan: 104,808 (range of 7,971–456,224)

Mexico: 157,264 (range of 139,863–183,739)

Russian Federation: 94,905 (range of 57,575–170,048)

Spain: 66,508 (range of 41,980–117,239)

Philippines: 117,721 (range of 27,525–176,324)

France: 73,743 (range of 44,693–161,349)

United Kingdom: 59,819 (range of 57,572–65,411)

France: 116,415 (range of 51,021–342,047)

United Kingdom: 69,548 (range of 59,680–96,669)

Philippines: 58,030 (range of 7,552–137,358)

Russian Federation: 112,367 (range of 63,165–214,363)

Spain: 69,445 (range of 43,306–122,913)

France: 46,623 (range of 38,070–69,559)

Netherlands: 94,332 (range of 21,815–186,842)

Philippines: 58,412 (range of 7,660–136,079)

Peru: 46,528 (range of 44,161–48,557)

Top 10 nations with the highest cumulative death rate per 100,000 on January 1:

Worse-case scenario

Most likely scenario

Best-case scenario

Netherlands: 549.8 (range of 127.1–1,089.0)

US Virgin Islands: 349.8 (range of 42.4–516.3)

US Virgin Islands: 343.9 (range of 39.4–514.6)

Spain: 393.1 (range of 212.2–612.9)

Netherlands: 204.5 (range of 64.1–595.7)

Spain: 144.5 (range of 91.2–254.7)

US Virgin Islands: 364.7 (range of 51.0–520.1)

Spain: 150.9 (range of 94.1–267.1)

Peru: 136.9 (range of 129.9–142.8)

Japan: 225.1 (range of 20.1–593.7)

Belgium: 139.7 (range of 92.3–290.6)

San Marino: 132.1 (range of 130.9–134.2)

Sweden: 223.1 (range of 83.1–894.3)

Peru: 137.3 (range of 130.1–143.4)

Kazakhstan: 121.4 (range of 53.4–183.5)

Romania: 216.1 (range of 106.9–384.4)

San Marino: 137.2 (range of 132.4–151.2)

Ecuador: 117.4 (range of 109.4–128.4)

Israel: 195.5 (range of 93.3–363.7)

Sweden: 125.4 (range of 71.6–394.0)

Belgium: 106.9 (range of 90.9–149.0)

Republic of Moldova: 192.3 (range of 105.4–312.8)

United States of America: 125.1 (range of 106.0–157.1)

Panama: 104.8 (range of 76.9–149.3)

United States of America: 189.0 (range of 141.3–266.7)

Ecuador: 118.3 (range of 109.8–129.8)

Mexico: 104.5 (range of 94.6–118.4)

Montenegro: 183.3 (range of 17.5–389.5)

France: 111.4 (range of 67.5–243.7)

Colombia: 94.7 (range of 81.5–112.1)

IHME’s projections are based on an epidemiological model that includes data on cases, deaths, and antibody prevalence, as well as location-specific COVID-19 testing rates, mobility, social distancing mandates, mask use, population density and age structure, and pneumonia seasonality, which shows a strong correlation with the trajectory of COVID-19.  

The new projections, including additional forecasts of daily infections, are available at and will be regularly updated moving forward. 

Contacts:  [email protected] 

For Europe-based journalists: Cathy Bartley, [email protected]  

About the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is an independent global health research organization at the University of Washington School of Medicine that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world’s most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them. IHME is committed to transparency and makes this information widely available so that policymakers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions on allocating resources to improve population health.