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A working theory links the harms of COVID-19 to the damage done to the lungs from smoking cigarettes. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said on February 14 that higher rates of cigarette smoking are “an excellent hypothesis” for why men seem to be more heavily impacted by COVID-19 than women.

study published by the Chinese government on February 17 found that of 45,000  confirmed cases at the time, the gender split was roughly equal, but that the fatality rate then recorded was 2.8 percent for men, compared with 1.7 percent for women.