The global death toll from the coronavirus has topped a staggering three million, with cases more than 140 million, amid repeated setbacks in the vaccination campaign and a deepening crisis in places such as Brazil, India and France.
The number of lives lost as of Saturday, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the population of Kyiv (Ukraine), Caracas (Venezuela) or Lisbon (Portugal). It is higher than Chicago’s population of 2.7 million and equivalent to Philadelphia and Dallas combined.
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And the true number is believed to be significantly higher because of possible government concealment and the many cases overlooked in the early stages of the outbreak that was first reported in Wuhan, China, towards the end of 2019.
When, in January this year, the world passed the bleak threshold of two million deaths, immunisation drives had just started in Europe and the United States.
Today, vaccination is under way in more than 190 countries, though progress in bringing the virus under control varies widely.
While the campaigns in the US and the United Kingdom have hit their stride and people and businesses there are beginning to contemplate life after the pandemic, other places, mostly poorer countries but some rich ones as well, are lagging behind in putting shots in arms and have imposed new lockdowns and other restrictions as virus cases soar.
“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, where we have proven control measures,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, one of the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 experts.
In Brazil, where deaths are running at approximately 3,000 per day, accounting for one-quarter of the lives lost worldwide in recent weeks, the crisis has been likened to a “raging inferno” by one WHO official.
A more contagious variant of the virus has been rampaging across the country.
As cases surge, hospitals are running out of critical sedatives. As a result, there have been reports of some doctors diluting what supplies remain and even tying patients to their beds while breathing tubes are pushed down their throats.
Taking cues from President Jair Bolsonaro, who has likened the virus to little more than flu, his health ministry for months bet big on a single vaccine, ignoring other producers. When bottlenecks emerged, it was too late to get large quantities in time.
In India, cases spiked in February after weeks of steady decline, taking authorities by surprise. In a surge driven by variants of the virus, India has seen more than 200,000 daily infections recorded three times during the past week, bringing the total number of cases to more than 14.5 million.
The WHO recently described the situation with the supply of vaccinations situation as precarious.
Up to 60 countries might not receive any more shots until June, by one estimate. To date, COVAX, the global initiative for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, has delivered about 40 million doses to more than 100 countries, enough to cover barely 0.25 percent of the world’s population.
Globally, about 87 percent of the 700 million doses dispensed have been given out in rich countries.
While one in four people in wealthy nations has received a vaccine, in poor countries the figure is one in more than 500.
In recent days, the US and some European countries put the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine on hold while authorities investigate extremely rare but dangerous blood clots. AstraZeneca’s vaccine has likewise been hit with delays and restrictions because of a clotting scare.