Official COVID-19 death tolls top 6 million as the pandemic ebbs out in many places but continues to roar elsewhere
Official COVID-19 death tolls top 6 million as the pandemic ebbs out in many places but continues to roar elsewhere

Official COVID-19 death tolls top 6 million as the pandemic ebbs out in many places but continues to roar elsewhere

The official global death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 6 million on Monday – which underlines it pandemicnow entering its third year is far from over.

The milestone, admitted to Johns Hopkins Universityis the latest tragic reminder of the relentless nature of the pandemic, even as people throw away masks, travel resumes, and businesses reopen across the globe.

Distant Pacific islands, whose isolation had protected them for more than two years, are currently struggling with their first eruption and death, driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Hong Kong, which sees deaths rising, is testing its entire population of 7.5 million three times this month as it clings to China’s “zero-COVID” strategy.

COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong
A healthcare professional wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) talks to a patient at a clinic designated to treat patients for COVID-19 in Hong Kong on March 7, 2022.

TYRONE SIU / REUTERS


As death rates remain high in Poland, Hungary, Romania and other Eastern European countries, the region has seen more than 1.5 million refugees arrive from war-torn Ukrainea country with poor vaccination coverage and high incidence of deaths.

And despite its wealth and availability of vaccines, the United States is approaching 1 million reported deaths alone.

World death rates are still highest among people who have not been vaccinated against the virus, said Tikki Pang, a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore School of Medicine and co-chair of the Asia Pacific Immunization Coalition.

“This is a disease of the unvaccinated – see what’s happening in Hong Kong right now – the health care system is being overwhelmed,” said Pang, the former director of research policy and cooperation with the World Health Organization. “The vast majority of deaths and serious cases are in the unvaccinated, vulnerable section of the population.”

It took the world seven months to register its first million deaths from the virus, after the pandemic began in early 2020. Four months later, another million people had died, and 1 million had died every three months since, until the death toll reached 5 million at. end of October. Now it has reached 6 million – more than the people of Berlin and Brussels combined, or the entire state of Maryland.

The toll is almost certainly much higher

But despite the sheer size of the number, the world no doubt hit its death number six million some time ago. Poor registration and testing in many parts of the world has led to a lower number of coronavirus deaths, in addition to excess deaths related to the pandemic, but not from actual COVID-19 infections, as people who died of preventable causes but could not receive treatment , because the hospitals were full.

Edouard Mathieu, head of data for the Our World in Data portal, said that when countries’ mortality rates are studied, as many as nearly four times the reported death toll is likely to have died due to the pandemic.

An analysis of excess deaths conducted by a team at The Economist estimates that the number of COVID-19 deaths is between 14.1 million and 23.8 million.

“Confirmed deaths represent a fraction of the true number of deaths due to COVID, mostly due to limited tests and challenges attributing the cause of death,” Mathieu told the Associated Press. “In some, mostly rich countries, this share is high and the official inventory can be considered quite accurate, but in others it is greatly underestimated.”

Geographical differences are still sharp

The United States has the largest official death toll in the world, but the numbers have been declining over the past month.

The world has seen more than 445 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and new weekly cases have fallen recently in all regions except the Western Pacific, which includes China, Japan and South Korea, the World Health Organization reported this week.

Although the total numbers in the Pacific Islands seeing their first outbreak are small compared to larger countries, they are significant among their small populations and threaten to overwhelm fragile health systems.

“Given what we know about COVID … it’s likely to hit them in the next year or so,” said Katie Greenwood, head of the Red Cross Pacific Delegation.

Tonga reported its first outbreak after the virus arrived with international aid vessels after the eruption on January 15 of a massive volcano that was followed by a tsunami. It now has hundreds of cases, but – with 66% of the population fully vaccinated – it has so far reported that people mainly suffer from mild symptoms and no deaths.

The Solomon Islands experienced its first outbreak in January and now has thousands of cases and more than 100 deaths. The actual death toll is likely to be much higher, with the capital’s hospital overwhelmed and many dying in the home, Greenwood said.

Only 12% of Solomon Islands’ population is fully vaccinated, although the outbreak has given new impetus to the country’s vaccination campaign, and 29% now have at least one shot.

Global vaccine disparities continue, with only 6.95% of people in low-income countries fully vaccinated compared to more than 73% in high-income countries, according to Our World in Data.

As a good sign, at the end of last month, Africa surpassed Europe in the number of daily doses, but only about 12.5% ​​of the population received two shots.

Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still pushing for more vaccines, even though it has been a challenge. Some shipments arrive with little warning to countries’ health systems and others near the expiration date – forcing doses to be destroyed.

Eastern Europe has been particularly hard hit by the omicron variant, and with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a new risk has arisen as hundreds of thousands of people flee to places like Poland in crowded trains. Health authorities there have offered free vaccinations to all refugees, but have not had them tested on arrival or in quarantine.

“This is really tragic because great stress has a very negative effect on the natural immunity and increases the risk of infections,” says Anna Boron-Kaczmarska, a Polish specialist in infectious diseases. “They are in very high stress and are afraid for their lives, their children’s lives, their family members.”

Cautious optimism in the United States

That Biden administration plans to start stocking millions of home tests and pills for COVID treatment, as part of a new one 96 page plan which maps the future of the federal effort to confront the pandemic.

“We have reached a new moment in the fight against COVID-19. Because of the significant progress we have made as a country, the determination and resilience of the American people and the work we have done to make tools to protect ourselves broadly available, we are moving safely forward and returning to our more normal routines, “White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters last week.

The plan, first outlined by President Biden under his State of the Union address, aims to find a balance between efforts to alleviate the restrictions imposed to curb the virus, while increasing efforts to address the danger that future variants may pose. Zients has been discussing the White House’s work on the new playbook in recent weeks; he told reporters that the administration consulted a wide range of public health experts, local governments and agencies to finalize the plan.

Alex Tin contributed to this report

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