Global COVID Death Toll Reaches Another Grim Milestone

The official death toll due to COVID-19 since the first recorded death in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 10, 2020, passed 5 million on Nov. 1, although The New York Times stresses that's a vast undercount. The WHO points to Europe as the latest hot spot.

4 minute read

November 10, 2021, 10:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

COVID-19 Test

shin sang eun / Shutterstock

"Experts say that five million is an undercount," writes Daniel E. Slotnik on Nov. 1. "Many countries are unable to accurately record the number of people who have died from Covid-19, like India and African nations; experts have questioned the veracity of data from other countries, like Russia."

Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy... said the true global toll could be as high as twice the reported figure.

The U.S. reached its own coronavirus milestone on Nov. 3 when deaths reached 750,000. With 4.25% of the world's population, the U.S. accounts for 15% of recorded global deaths. Brazil is next with almost 610,000 deaths, followed by India with over 460,000 recorded deaths on Nov. 8, according to The New York Times global tracker.

Infections – another milestone

A week later, on Monday, Nov. 8, "[g]lobal COVID-19 cases surpassed 250 million as some countries in eastern Europe experience record outbreaks, even as the Delta variant surge eases and many countries resume trade and tourism," report Roshan Abraham and Rittik Biswas for Reuters.

The daily average number of cases has fallen by 36% over the past three months, according to a Reuters analysis, but the virus is still infecting 50 million people worldwide every 90 days due to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

By contrast, it took nearly a year to record the first 50 million COVID-19 cases.

The Washington Post's global coronavirus tracker shows "How the U.S. compares to other regions."

European hot spot

"The World Health Organization warned that a surge of coronavirus cases in Europe and Central Asia has pushed the region back as the epicenter of the pandemic," reported Corinne Gretler for Bloomberg News on Nov. 4.

“According to one reliable projection, if we stay on this trajectory, we could see another half a million Covid-19 deaths in Europe and Central Asia by Feb. 1 next year,” Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, said at a media briefing on Thursday.

"Infections are still rising in 55 out of 240 countries [Worldometer tracks 204], with Russia, Ukraine and Greece at or near record levels of reported cases since the pandemic started two years ago, according to a Reuters analysis," add Abraham and Biswas.

Eastern Europe has among the lowest vaccination rates in the region. More than half of all new infections reported worldwide were from countries in Europe, with a million new infections about every four days, according to the analysis.

As previous posts detailing high transmission in Israel, the U.K., and Singapore indicate, high vaccination levels do not prevent outbreaks

"In Germany, too, despite much higher levels of vaccination , the infection rate rose to its highest level since the start of the pandemic and doctors said they would need to postpone scheduled operations in coming weeks to cope," add Abraham and Biswas. 

With 67% of its population fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker (in the U.S., it is 58%),  hospitalizations,  just under 4 per 100,000 residents over a week, according to the Associated Press, remain well below the peak last Christmas of 15.5.

End may be in sight

Just as the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization on March 11 last year, they will be the organization that declares an end to it.

"Health experts are optimistic that many nations have put the worst of the pandemic behind them thanks to vaccines and natural exposure, although they caution that colder weather and upcoming holiday gatherings could increase cases," add Abraham and Biswas for Reuters.

"We think between now and the end of 2022, this is the point where we get control over this virus ... where we can significantly reduce severe disease and death," Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist leading the World Health Organisation, told Reuters on Nov. 3.

That timeline stands in sharp contrast to Van Kerhove's prior assessment in a related post just two months into the pandemic when she told NPR, "Typically, it takes years, up to 10 years, to develop a vaccine." As she observed then and now, gaining control means entering the endemic phase of COVID-19, i.e., living with the coronavirus.

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