“What was never on the horizon was that so many deaths would occur in the richest countries of the world,” said Dr Bharat Pankhania, infectious disease specialist at the University. British Exeter.
The global death toll from COVID-19 passed 2 million on January 15, crossing the threshold amid a vaccine rollout so huge but so uneven that in some countries there is real hope of beating the epidemic, while in other less developed parts of the world, it seems like a distant dream.
The numbing figure was reached just over a year after the coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The death toll, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is roughly equal to the population of Brussels, Mecca, Minsk or Vienna.
“There have been a terrible amount of deaths,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, a pandemic expert and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. At the same time, he said: “Our scientific community has also done an extraordinary job.” In wealthy countries, including the United States, Britain, Israel, Canada and Germany, millions of citizens have already enjoyed some protection with at least one dose of vaccine developed at a revolutionary rate and quickly cleared for use.
But elsewhere, vaccination campaigns have barely started. Many experts predict another year of loss and hardship in countries like Iran, India, Mexico and Brazil, which together account for around a quarter of the world’s deaths.
“As a country, as a society, as citizens, we haven’t understood,” lamented Israel Gomez, a Mexico City paramedic who spent months commuting COVID-19 patients in an ambulance. , desperately looking for vacant hospital beds.
“We didn’t understand that it’s not a game, that it really exists.” Mexico, a country of 130 million people that has suffered severely from the virus, has received only 5.00,000 doses of the vaccine and barely half of it in the arms of health workers.
This contrasts sharply with the situation of its wealthier neighbor to the north. Despite early delays, hundreds of thousands of people roll up their sleeves every day in the United States, where the virus has killed an estimated 390,000 people, by far the highest death toll of any country.
While immunization campaigns in rich countries have been hampered by long queues, inadequate budgets and a patchwork of state and local approaches, the obstacles are much greater in poorer countries, which may have weak health systems, crumbling transport networks, entrenched corruption, and a lack of reliable electricity to keep vaccines cold enough.
Just stocking up on projectiles could be the biggest obstacle in such places.
The majority of COVID-19 vaccine doses around the world have already been purchased by rich countries. COVAX, a UN-backed project to deliver injections to developing regions of the world, ran out of vaccines, money and logistical assistance.
As a result, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization has warned that it is highly unlikely that herd immunity – which would require at least 70% of the planet to be vaccinated – will be achieved this year. As the disaster demonstrated, it is not enough to just switch off the virus in some places.
“Even if it happens in a few pockets, in a few countries it won’t protect people across the world,” Dr Soumya Swaminathan said this week.
Health experts are also concerned that if the vaccines are not distributed widely enough and quickly enough, it could give the virus time to mutate and overcome the vaccine – “my nightmare scenario,” as Dr said. Jha.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the appalling death toll “has been compounded by the lack of a coordinated global effort.” He added: “Science has succeeded, but solidarity has failed.” Meanwhile, in Wuhan, where the scourge was discovered in late 2019, a global team of researchers led by the WHO arrived on January 14 as part of a politically sensitive mission to investigate the origins of the virus, which is would be spread to humans from wild animals. .
The Chinese city of 11 million is bustling again, with little sign that it was once the epicenter of the disaster, closed for 76 days, with more than 3,800 dead.
“We are neither fearful nor worried as in the past,” said Qin Qiong, owner of a noodle shop. “We are now leading a normal life. I take the metro every day to come and work in the store. … Except for our customers, who have to wear masks, everything else is the same. It took eight months to kill 1 million, but less than four months after that to reach the next million.
While the death toll is based on figures provided by government agencies around the world, the actual number of lives lost is believed to be significantly higher, in part due to inadequate testing and the many deaths wrongly attributed to other causes, especially at the start of the epidemic.
“What was never on the horizon was that so many deaths would occur in the richest countries of the world,” said Dr Bharat Pankhania, infectious disease expert at the University. British Exeter. “The fact that the richest countries in the world would be doing such mismanagement is simply shocking.” In rich countries as in poor countries, the crisis has devastated economies, thrown multitudes into unemployment and plunged many into poverty.
In Europe, where more than a quarter of the world’s deaths have occurred, strict lockdowns and curfews have been reimposed to fend off a resurgence of the virus, and a new variant seen as more contagious is circulating in Britain and In other countries. , as well as in the United States