Over one million people have now died of the novel coronavirus globally, a sobering milestone as countries around the world struggle to contain a growing second wave of the pandemic.
The death toll surpassed one million Monday evening, reaching 1,000,555, according to public health data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
“Our world has reached an agonizing milestone,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
“It’s a mind-numbing figure. Yet we must never lose sight of each and every individual life. They were fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues.”
The fatalities account for three per cent of the more than 33.2 million cases of COVID-19 reported since the disease was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) health emergencies program, said Monday that the reported death toll is “likely an undercount” of the true number of fatalities.
According to Johns Hopkins, the number of deaths reported daily around the world has stayed relatively steady since July, averaging over 5,000 deaths per day. That’s despite an ever increasing number in daily new infections, which reached a new high of 360,934 on Thursday.
India is now leading the world in daily deaths, with over 1,000 people dying from COVID-19 per day since late August. The country has overtaken the United States, which has fallen from a similar rate to between 700 and 800 daily fatalities.
The U.S. still leads the world in overall deaths, however, with over 205,000 to date out of 7.1 million cases, followed by Brazil with 142,000 deaths and 4.7 million infections. India has the third highest death toll with over 95,500, but is second overall in cases, having crossed 6 million on Sunday.
With infections continuing to climb around the world, many countries are urgently trying to tamp down new surges as fall and winter approach along with influenza season.
While the U.S. is continuing to move forward with economic re-openings despite warnings that cases could return again, the United Kingdom recently imposed new restrictions on businesses while urging people to work from home if they can.
Some Canadian provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have introduced tougher measures and threatened fines for those who continue to gather in larger groups.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada’s four largest provinces are already experiencing the second wave.
He urged Canadians to stick to social bubbles, wear masks, wash their hands frequently and continue practicing social distancing.
The pandemic’s toll of 1 million dead in such a limited time rivals some of the gravest threats to public health, past and present.
It exceeds annual deaths from AIDS, which last year killed about 690,000 people worldwide. The virus’s toll is approaching the 1.5 million global deaths each year from tuberculosis, which regularly kills more people than any other infectious disease.
For all its lethality, the virus has claimed far fewer lives than the so-called Spanish flu, which killed an estimated 40 million to 50 million worldwide in two years, just over a century ago.
That pandemic came before scientists had microscopes powerful enough to identify the enemy or antibiotics that could treat the bacterial pneumonia that killed most of the victims. It also ran a far different course. In the U.S., for example, the Spanish flu killed about 675,000. But most of those deaths did not come until a second wave hit over the winter of 1918-19.
Up to now, the disease has left only a faint footprint on Africa, well shy of early modeling that predicted thousands more deaths.
But cases have recently surged in countries like Britain, Spain, Russia and Israel. In the United States, the return of students to college campuses has sparked new outbreaks. With approval and distribution of a vaccine still probably months away and winter approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, the toll will continue to climb.
On Friday, Ryan of the WHO said it was “unimaginable but not impossible” for the world to add another million deaths before a vaccine is available worldwide.
“One million is a terrible number and I think we need to reflect on that before we start considering a second million,” Ryan told a press conference.
“The real question is, are we prepared collectively to do what it takes to avoid that number? Are we prepared to fully engage in the surveillance and testing and tracing, in managing our own risks at society and community level, governments supporting communities to take that action?”
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior advisor at the WHO, added bringing the death rate down is up to everyone.
“Whether another million people die of COVID-19 is not a function of whether or not we have a vaccine,” he said. “It’s a function of whether or not we put the tools, approaches and knowledge that we have today to work to save lives and prevent transmission; it’s as simple as that.”
—With files from the Associated Press