Thursday, January 20

‘A watershed moment’: global death toll from COVID-19 exceeds five million


The global death toll from COVID-19 has exceeded five million, and one expert described the situation as “a watershed moment in our lives.”

Less than two years after the global health crisis that has wreaked havoc on economies and health systems around the world, the number of officially recorded deaths from COVID-19 surpassed five million on Monday.

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, total deaths stood at 5,001,817 as of Monday morning, with 246,811,481 cases recorded worldwide.

“This is a watershed moment in our life,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Public Health. “What do we have to do to protect ourselves and not reach another 5 million?”

Together, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Brazil, all high- or upper-middle-income countries, account for an eighth of the world’s population, but almost half of all reported deaths. The United States alone has recorded more than 740,000 lives lost, more than any other nation.

The global death toll rivals the death toll in battles between nations since 1950, according to estimates by the Oslo Peace Research Institute.

Globally, COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and stroke.

The staggering figure is almost certainly an undercount due to limited testing and people dying at home without medical care, especially in the poorest parts of the world like India.

The hot spots have changed over the 22 months since the outbreak began, causing different places on the world map to turn red.

Now, the virus is hitting Russia, Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe, especially where rumors, misinformation and mistrust in the government have hampered vaccination efforts. In Ukraine, only 17% of the adult population is fully vaccinated; in Armenia, only 7 percent.

“What’s uniquely different about this pandemic is that it hit high-resource countries the hardest,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of ICAP, a global health center at Columbia University. “That is the irony of COVID-19.”

Richer nations with a longer life expectancy have a higher proportion of older people, cancer survivors and residents of nursing homes, all of whom are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, El-Sadr noted. The poorest countries tend to have a higher proportion of children, adolescents and young adults, who are less likely to become seriously ill from the coronavirus.

India, despite its terrifying delta rise that peaked in early May, now has a much lower daily death rate than Russia, the United States or Britain, although there is uncertainty surrounding its numbers.

The apparent disconnect between wealth and health is a paradox disease experts will be pondering for years. But the pattern that is observed on a large scale, when nations are compared, is different when examined more closely. Within each rich country, when deaths and infections are mapped, the poorest neighborhoods are hit the hardest.

“When we take out our microscopes, we see that within countries, the most vulnerable are the ones that have suffered the most,” Ko said.

Wealth has also played a role in the global vaccination campaign, with rich countries accused of blocking supplies.

The United States and other countries are already giving booster injections at a time when millions in Africa have not received a single dose, although rich countries are also sending hundreds of millions of injections to the rest of the world.

Africa remains the least vaccinated region in the world, with only 5% of the population of 1.3 billion people fully covered.

“This devastating milestone reminds us that we are failing much of the world,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a written statement. “This is a global shame.”


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