More people have died from Covid-19 already this year than in the whole of 2020, according to official counts, highlighting how the global pandemic is far from over, even though vaccines are repelling the virus in wealthy nations.
It took less than six months for the globe to record more than 1.88 million Covid-19 deaths this year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data collected by Johns Hopkins University. The university’s 2021 census edged just ahead of the death toll in 2020 on Thursday.
These figures underscore a widening gap between developed and developing countries as President Biden and the leaders of the second group of seven advanced economies prepare to gather in England to discuss the next steps in the pandemic response.
While Western nations such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom celebrate low cases and declining deaths thanks to mass vaccination campaigns, the intensified pandemic in parts of Asia and Latin America led to higher global deaths.
“We are going through our worst moment since the start of the pandemic,”
His country is facing its longest and most serious wave, in which well over 500 people die on average from Covid-19 every day. The government has implemented new lockdowns that are among the most stringent in South America, including closing trade and restrictions on drivers as well as suspending classes and religious ceremonies.
The figures collected by Johns Hopkins reflect official counts of Covid-19 deaths from nations around the world, adding a global figure that recently topped 3.7 million. Uneven registration of Covid-19 cases and deaths means the true toll is likely to be significantly higher, disease experts say.
The good news is that the world’s seven-day average for officially reported new deaths has been lower in recent weeks. But the average is also still at historically high levels, and recently it slipped back below 10,000 deaths a day, a level that only reached the end of last year. For about two weeks starting in late January, nations around the world had more than 14,000 deaths a day.
The current burden of Covid-19 marks a turning point for rich and poor nations. At the turn of the year, Europe and North America accounted for 73% of daily cases and 72% of daily deaths as the virus roared back during the fall and winter. Now, South America, Asia and Africa account for more than 80% of daily cases and three-quarters of daily deaths, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of figures compiled by the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project.
Very different vaccination rates have sharpened the global divide. Only 2% of the population in Africa and just over 6% in Asia have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to Our World in Data. That compares with 22% in South America, more than 40% in the EU and more than half in the United States, Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has not yet administered a single vaccine, according to the World Health Organization.
World leaders are set to discuss their response to the pandemic as they gather in Cornwall in southwest England on Friday. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson has called on major economies to commit to vaccinating the world before the end of next year, but the United States and Europe appear to be divided on how best to expand vaccine coverage worldwide.
The EU opposes a US-backed proposal to relinquish intellectual property rights to Covid-19 vaccines in order to increase production, and instead proposes that countries subsidize vaccine production directly and ease export restrictions.
President Biden’s administration intends to donate 500 million doses of coronavirus vaccines produced by Pfizer Inc.
to the rest of the world, according to people familiar with the plans.
Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE confirmed their part of the deal earlier Thursday, saying 200 million doses would go to other countries this year and 300 million in the first half of next year.
All of these doses will be donated through Covax, the global initiative to vaccinate developing countries, and is earmarked for 92 lower-income countries and the African Union.
Behind this year’s rise in Covid-19 deaths is a worsening toll in South America and a burgeoning epidemic in Asia, particularly India. Fuel for these outbreaks are new variants of the virus that researchers believe are more transmissible than older strains.
In South America, Peru, the country with the world’s highest death rate per capita. Per capita, recently announced a revised figure showing more than 94,000 deaths so far this year, exceeding the 93,000 deaths in 2020. Brazil’s average daily death toll peaked at 3,100 in mid-April this year, equivalent to 130 deaths per hour and nearly tripled the maximum speed seen last year. Almost 60% of the country’s approx. 480,000 Covid-19 deaths have come this year.
Johns Hopkins data show that a major culprit is an aggressive version of Covid-19 that spread south from the Amazon to the country’s major cities. The resulting caseload overwhelmed local hospitals, meaning many seriously ill patients died after not receiving adequate medical care. This more contagious variant, known as Gamma, has also become a major nuisance throughout South America.
Colombia has recorded more than 50,000 Covid-19 deaths this year, compared to 43,200 last year. The rise in pandemic deaths exacerbates an unstable political situation with anti-government protests over unemployment and rising poverty slowing vaccine efforts in some regions. Only about 6.8% of the population is fully vaccinated, Colombian health data shows, and intensive care units in several cities are filled to capacity for the first time since the pandemic hit.
In India, rapidly spreading variants such as Alpha, the variant first identified in the UK last year, and Delta, first identified in India at the end of last year, are behind an epidemic that has afflicted nearly 30 million people and claimed more than 359,500 human lives according to Johns Hopkins. Doctors are afraid that the Delta variant in particular will prove to be more virulent and hit younger patients harder than in previous waves of infection.
The scale of the outbreak in India flooded the country’s health service, leaving hospitals without beds, leaving patients desperate for oxygen. Millions of vaccine doses intended for export were kept at home for a domestic vaccination drive. Some states have begun easing public health restrictions after case burdens recently began to fall. The federal government has promised to offer free vaccinations to all adults from June 21st.
This year has also hit some Asian countries that seemed to avoid a significant impact in 2020. Japan has seen significantly more deaths this year than last, data show. Although Thailand in general has reported 1,300 deaths, almost all are this year, data show.
In Africa, Covid-19 cases have begun to rise in recent weeks in countries including South Africa, Uganda and Namibia, raising the prospect of another death toll.
Data on Covid-19 deaths are uneven in most African countries due to limited testing, and many people avoid treatment in hospitals, even in severe cases. Nearly 68,000 Covid-19 deaths have been captured in official speeches in Africa this year compared to about 65,000 in 2020.
With the help of its vaccine campaign, the United States recently saw its average daily deaths fall to its lowest level since the early days of the pandemic, with about 59% of the country’s nearly 600,000 known Covid-19 deaths occurring last year. In the UK, which also experienced more deaths last year, the daily toll has dropped to single digits compared to an average that peaked above 1,200 in January.
But even in rich countries, the fight against the virus is not over. The UK, for example, tracks fast-growing clusters of infections associated with the Delta variant and highlights how the virus can continue to find ways to find susceptible hosts even within a heavily vaccinated population.
The variant’s progress has cast doubt on Britain’s plan to abandon all public health restrictions later this month, as researchers and officials await more evidence as to whether vaccines hold enough of a lid on hospitalizations and deaths. Hospital admissions have begun to creep up in some areas, but deaths so far are low.
The Delta variant has also troubled US authorities. All nations remain at risk, while violent outbreaks create the risk of causing even more risky mutations, health experts say.
“The strategy is pretty simple: Everyone in the world needs to get a vaccine,” said Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist who heads the Center for Global Health Research, a nonprofit sponsored by the University of Toronto and St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
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Epidemiologists believe that these figures represent only part of the true toll of the pandemic, partly due to missing Covid-19 deaths and safety injuries from problems such as health disorders. In the United States, for example, experts believe that limited test availability inhibits the ability to correctly identify many Covid-19 deaths early in the pandemic.
This was probably the case in many nations, said Dr. Jha, which may mean that there were a significant number of missing Covid-19 deaths last year. On the other hand, the intensity of the pandemic in India probably caused an increase in missing deaths this year, he said.
“In India, I have no doubt that the real sum can be double” the official number, said Dr. Jha.
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—Ryan Dube in Lima, Peru, Silvina Frydlewsky in Buenos Aires, Samantha Pearson in São Paulo, and Anthony DeBarros in Washington contributed to this article.
Write to Jon Kamp at firstname.lastname@example.org, Jason Douglas at email@example.com and Juan Forero at Juan.Forero@wsj.com
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