Already this year, more people have died from Covid-19 than in all of 2020, according to official figures, stressing that the global pandemic is far from over, even when vaccines repel the virus in rich countries.
It took less than six months for the globe to register more than 1.88 million Covid-19 deaths this year, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal of data collected by Johns Hopkins University. The number of universities in 2021 increased just before the deaths in 2020 on Thursday.
These figures underscore the deteriorating divide between developed and developing countries as President Biden and leaders of the other group of seven advanced economies prepare to gather in England to discuss the next steps in responding to the pandemic.
While Western countries such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are celebrating low numbers and declining deaths thanks to mass vaccination campaigns, the intensified pandemic in parts of Asia and Latin America has led to higher deaths worldwide.
“We are experiencing the worst moment since the beginning of the pandemic,”
His country is facing its longest and heaviest wave, with more than 500 people dying from Covid-19 on average every day. The government has introduced new blockades, which are among the toughest in South America, including trade closures and restrictions on drivers, as well as the suspension of classes and religious ceremonies.
The figures, collected by John Hopkins, reflect the official census of Covid-19 deaths by nations around the world, adding to the global figure, which recently reached 3.7 million. Irregular recording of Covid-19 cases and deaths means that the real victims are likely to be significantly higher, disease experts say.
The good news is that the seven-day average duration of officially reported new deaths worldwide has been declining in recent weeks. But the average is still at historically high levels, recently slipping back below 10,000 deaths a day, a level not reached by the end of last year. In about two weeks, beginning in late January, countries around the world have an average of more than 14,000 deaths a day.
The current weight of Covid-19 marks a turning point for rich and poor nations. At the end of the year, Europe and North America accounted for 73% of daily deaths and 72% of daily deaths, as the virus roared back in the fall and winter. South America, Asia and Africa now account for more than 80 percent of daily deaths and three-quarters of daily deaths, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal of figures compiled by Oxford University’s Our World in Data project.
Highly different levels of vaccination have exacerbated the global divide. Only 2% of people in Africa and just over 6% in Asia have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Our World in Data. That compares to 22 percent in South America, more than 40 percent in the European Union and more than half in the United States. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has not yet introduced a single vaccine, according to the World Health Organization.
World leaders are due to discuss their response to the pandemic when they gather in Cornwall, southwest England, on Friday. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson has called on major economies to commit to vaccinating the world by the end of next year, but the United States and Europe seem divided on how best to expand the range of vaccines worldwide.
The EU opposes the US-backed proposal to relinquish intellectual property rights to Covid-19 vaccines in order to increase production, instead proposing that countries directly subsidize vaccine production and ease export restrictions.
President Biden’s administration intends to donate 500 million doses of coronavirus vaccine 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 share 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 support vaccination in developing countries, and are targeted at 92 lower-income countries and the African Union.
Behind this year’s jump in Covid-19 deaths are the deteriorating casualties in South America and the spiral epidemic in Asia, especially in India. Feeding these outbreaks is a new variant of the virus that scientists believe is more portable than older strains.
In South America, Peru, the country with the highest per capita mortality rate in the world, recently announced a revised total showing more than 94,000 deaths so far this year, exceeding 93,000 deaths in 2020. The average daily number of deaths in 2020 Brazil stood at 3,100 in mid-April this year, the equivalent of 130 deaths per hour and nearly tripled the peak seen last year. Nearly 60% of the approximately 480,000 deaths from Covid-19 occurred this year.
The main culprit is the aggressive version of Covid-19, which is spreading south from the Amazon to the country’s major cities, according to data from John Hopkins. The result of the wave cases has overwhelmed local hospitals, which means that many seriously ill patients have died after not receiving adequate medical care. This more contagious variant, known as Gamma, has also become a major scourge throughout South America.
Colombia has registered more than 50,000 Covid-19 deaths this year, up from 43,200 last year. Rising pandemic mortality is complicating the volatile political situation, with anti-government protests over unemployment and growing poverty slowing vaccination efforts in some regions. Only about 6.8 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, Colombia’s health data show, and intensive care units in several cities are overcrowded for the first time since the pandemic.
In India, fast-spreading variants such as Alpha, the variant first identified in the UK last year, and Delta, first identified in India late last year, are behind an epidemic that infected nearly 30 million people and killed more than 359 500 lives, according to John Hopkins. Doctors are worried that the Delta variant is more virulent, hitting younger patients harder than previous waves of infection.
The scale of the outbreak in India has flooded the country’s health service, leaving hospitals without beds and patients desperate for oxygen. Millions of doses of vaccines destined for export were kept at home for internal vaccination. Some countries have begun easing public health restrictions after recently starting to reduce cases. The federal government is committed to offering free vaccinations to all adults from June 21.
This year also hit some Asian countries, which seem to have avoided significant impacts in 2020. This year, Japan has seen significantly more deaths than last year, the data show. Although Thailand has reported about 1,300 deaths in total, almost all of them are this year, the data show.
In Africa, Covid-19 cases have begun to rise in recent weeks in countries including South Africa, Uganda and Namibia, increasing the chances of a new jump in deaths.
Covid-19 deaths are volatile in most African countries due to limited testing, and many people avoid hospital treatment even in severe cases. Nearly 68,000 Covid-19 deaths have been recorded in official estimates in Africa this year, up from about 65,000 in 2020.
Aided by its vaccination campaign, the United States recently saw its average daily deaths fall to its lowest level since the early days of the pandemic, and about 59 percent of the nearly 600,000 known deaths from Covid-19 occurred last year. In the United Kingdom, where more deaths also occurred last year, daily tolls have fallen to single digits from an average of more than 1,200 in January.
Yet even in rich countries, the battle against the virus is not over. The United Kingdom, for example, is tracking fast-growing clusters of infections associated with the Delta variant, highlighting how the virus can continue to find ways to find susceptible hosts even among a highly vaccinated population.
Progress on the option has called into question the UK’s plan to lift all public health restrictions later this month, as scientists and officials expect more evidence that vaccines hold enough cover for hospitalizations and deaths. Hospital admissions in some areas are starting to creep in, but deaths have remained low so far.
The Delta option has also alerted US authorities. All countries continue to be at risk, while growing outbreaks pose the risk of incurring even more risky mutations, health experts say.
“The strategy is quite simple: everyone in the world should get the vaccine,” said Prabhat Ja, an epidemiologist who runs the Center for Global Health Research, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the University of Toronto and St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
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Epidemiologists believe these figures represent only a fraction of the real victims of the pandemic, in part due to missed Covid-19 deaths and additional damage from problems such as health care disruptions. For example, in the United States, experts believe that the limited availability of tests makes it difficult to correctly identify many deaths from Covid-19 at the beginning of the pandemic.
This was probably true in many countries, Dr. Ja said, which could mean that there were a significant number of missed Covid-19 deaths last year. On the other hand, the intensity of the pandemic in India has probably caused an increase in missed deaths this year, he said.
“In India, I have no doubt that the real total may double,” said Dr. Ja.
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—Ryan Dube in Lima, Peru, Silvina Friedlevsky in Buenos Aires, Samantha Pearson in Sao Paulo and Anthony DeBaros in Washington contributed to this article.
Write to John Camp at firstname.lastname@example.org, Jason Douglas at email@example.com and Juan Forero at Juan.Forero@wsj.com
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