World edges close to 2 M COVID-19 deaths

Published January 16, 2021, 7:30 AM

by Bloomberg & AFP

Led by the United States, the world is about to hit a frightening COVID19 benchmark, with 2 million people dead and few expectations for the numbers to start dropping any time soon.

Maryland Cremation Services transporter Reggie Elliott brings the remains of a Covid-19 victim to his van from the hospital’s morgue in Baltimore, Maryland on December 24, 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“You want to get to the point first where the virus can’t outrace you,” said Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health and co-director of the Global Health Justice Partnership.

“It’s very hard to project out in any fine level of resolution how many people will be dead from this, in even 6 months to a year.”

With the rollout of the Pfizer Inc.- BioNTech SE vaccine and the Moderna Inc. shot going slowly in the US, and virtually non-existent in many parts of the world, the odds of controlling the outbreak before the summer at the earliest are slim, especially because it can take weeks for an infected person to die.

“We have a great forest fire of a pandemic happening,” Gonsalves said in a phone interview.

“But if you have just a bucket of water in a forest fire, then you aren’t doing well.”

The US recorded a seven-day average of 2,249 deaths last week, surpassing a previous mark set in April. Overall, the nation is leading all countries in deaths with 387,910, with Brazil, India, Mexico and the UK next in line.

COVID, meanwhile, has already killed more people than malaria and tuberculosis combined in the past year, and is nearing those seen from AIDS, which peaked at 2.3 million in 2005.

People need to wear masks until 75% of the population is immunized, Ali Mokdad, a population scientist and professor of global health at the University of Washington, said.

Gonsalves, though, is concerned that even if the US is able to stem its outbreak, the virus will continue to surge elsewhere.

“If you can’t put it out everywhere,” he said, “you can’t put it out anywhere. You are always going to have travel seeding new outbreaks.”

Booster Shot

While the vaccines authorized for emergency use in the US are promising to protect people right now, it also remains unclear how long that protection will last.

Pfizer is continuing to study its vaccine, hoping to move from its emergency use authorization to final approval, and to determine if regular booster shoots will be needed to keep the virus from re-emerging.

While the number of deaths is likely to recede as more and more people get vaccinated, herd immunity – which occurs when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease, making the person-to-person spread unlikely – won’t be achieved until at least 70% of the population is protected, experts including Anthony Fauci have said. IHME projects this to happen sometime in July.

Fauci, the top US infectious disease doctor and soon to be a key adviser to Joe Biden once he becomes US president on Jan. 20, said last month that herd immunity will likely happen in the summer, with a return to normality by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization puts the timeline globally at 2022.

Worldwide Protection

“Even as vaccines start protecting the most vulnerable, we’re not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” said the WHO’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan at a Jan. 11 news briefing.

“Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world.”

The WHO has placed orders for more than 2 billion vaccine doses for low and moderate income countries through its COVAX facility, designed to fight the pandemic.

It also has the option to acquire a billion more, according to Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist working with the WHO.

Aylward urged wealthier countries to focus not on making sure that all of their population is vaccinated first, but that those at highest risk and most likely to keep the virus viable worldwide get priority access.

Worst week for Mexico

Mexico reeled Thursday from its worst week of the pandemic yet, with deaths averaging nearly 1,000 a day and a health system that was close to reaching a breaking point.

Queues for coronavirus tests or tanks of oxygen for sick relatives are now a common sight in Mexico City, where the mood on the streets is somber.

In the seven days to Wednesday, the nation of 128 million officially registered 6,930 deaths, including a record 1,314 on Tuesday alone.

Mexico has now recorded a total of 1.59 million COVID-19 infections and nearly 138,000 deaths – the world’s fourth-highest toll.

Cases surge in Germany

Germany has recorded more than two million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency said Friday.

Europe’s most populous country added another 22,368 cases over the past 24 hours, it said, bringing the total to 2,000,958. It also reported another 1,113 fatalities from COVID-19, taking the overall death toll up to 44,994.

Home-grown vaccine

A homegrown coronavirus vaccine will be rolled out in India from Saturday even though clinical trials haven’t been completed. But the government insists it will be safe and effective.

The All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), an independent watchdog, led a chorus of concern from experts saying it was ”shocked” and ”baffled” by the emergency approval of Covaxin.

French curfew expanded

The French government will impose a daily nationwide curfew at 6:00 pm starting Saturday and for at least two weeks, Prime Minister Jean Castex announces, saying the situation is ”under control”, but still ”fragile”.

It will also require a negative Covid test for all non-EU arrivals.

Lebanon in lockdown A full lockdown starts in Lebanon, with residents barred even from food shopping and dependent on deliveries.

Turkey takes China jab Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gets vaccinated as his country starts inoculating with China’s Sinovac jab despite conflicting data abouts its efficacy.

UK bans Latam arrivals

Britain says it will ban all arrivals from South American countries and Portugal from 0400 GMT Friday over fears of importing a new coronavirus variant in Brazil.

Two popes get vaccine Both Pope Francis and his predecessor, former pope Benedict XVI, have received their first jabs, with Italian media saying it was the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.