Global Covid-19 death toll passes 5m

The global death toll from Covid-19 has passed 5 million, 19 months after the pandemic was first declared, according to figures released by Johns Hopkins University. Some experts, including those from the World Health Organization, believe the true toll may be two to three times higher than official figures suggest.

The number of deaths from Covid-19 far outstrip that of other viral epidemics in the 21st century and most from the 20th century, with the notable exception of the Spanish flu. The US, Brazil, India, Mexico and the UK together account for more than half of all deaths worldwide.

In the last 28 days, Johns Hopkins University has logged 197,116 deaths and 11.7 million new cases around the world.

After it was first recorded in China in late 2019, the coronavirus spread quickly to almost every corner of the world and the outbreak was declared a pandemic in March 2020.

In the last month, the US, UK, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine have recorded the most new cases, while 581m doses of vaccine have been administered worldwide. The US has the largest death toll, at 745,836, followed by India (458,437). Russia’s official death toll stands at 235,318, although independent analysis of excess deaths in Russia by the Moscow Times suggests the true figure could be up to three times higher.

UK government figures show that in the last seven days there were 284,058 new cases, numbers last seen in the January and July peaks of the virus in the UK. In the last week 1,099 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive test, taking the total official death toll to 163,515. Nearly 80% of the population aged 12 and above in the UK have received two doses of a vaccine, and 86.9% have had at least one.

A health professional tends to a Covid-19 patient at a hospital in Peru.

© Photograph: Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images A health professional tends to a Covid-19 patient at a hospital in Peru.

Ariel Karlinsky, a member of the World Health Organization’s technical advisory group on Covid mortality, said the 5 million milestone was actually passed “a long time ago”. He estimated the the true global death toll from the pandemic so far was “at least 10 million people”.

“There are 5 million covid deaths just in India,” he estimated in an interview with the Guardian.

Karlinsky said the most reliable indicator was excess death toll, which was typically 40% higher, according to data. But he said certain countries were statistical “black holes”. These included India, Pakistan and many countries in Africa. Belarus and Nicaragua had dramatically undercounted Covid-related deaths, while in Egypt excess mortality was 13 times higher than official figures, he said.

There was a correlation between good governance and good data, he added. He said in Russia more than 872,000 people had died of Covid, according to his estimate on Monday, over three times the Kremlin’s figure.

“Autocrats tend to manipulate data. In Moscow, it is much worse than reported. The numbers from Belarus are complete nonsense,” Karlinsky said.

Dr Albert Ko, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Yale School of Public Health, said: “This is a defining moment in our lifetime. What do we have to do to protect ourselves so we don’t get to another 5 million?”

The death toll as tallied by Johns Hopkins rivals the number of people killed in battles among nations since 1950, according to estimates from the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Globally, Covid-19 is the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and stroke.

Hotspots for the virus have shifted over the course of the pandemic, with eastern European countries experiencing a surge amid low vaccination rates, while some places such as Thailand reopen to tourism.

Dr Wafaa El-Sadr, the director of ICAP, a global health centre at Columbia University in the US, told the Associated Press: “What’s uniquely different about this pandemic is it hit hardest the high-resource countries. That’s the irony of Covid-19.”

Wealthier nations with longer life expectancies have larger proportions of older people, cancer survivors and nursing home residents, all of whom are especially vulnerable to Covid-19, El-Sadr noted. Poorer countries tend to have larger shares of children, teens and young adults, who are less likely to fall seriously ill from Covid.

The Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracking dashboard has become regarded as one of the most reliable measures of the spread of the disease globally, as it is independent and run by a small team of disease modelling experts at the University in Baltimore. The dashboard project began in January 2020, initially with manual data entry, and it is now automated and scrapes Covid data from official government sources around the world, with a team of about a dozen people managing it.—TheGuardian

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