Covid-19 has killed more than 5 million people around the world, a grim milestone after nearly 20 months of lockdowns, information overload, misinformation and misery. The United States contributed the most bodies from the coronavirus – 4% of the world’s population but 15% of total deaths. Covid-19 is now one of the leading causes of death in the United States, along with heart disease and stroke.
But even the most accommodating health officials believe those numbers are just the tip of a deeper iceberg.
Amber D’Souza, professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Maryland, US, says it is entirely possible that the actual number of deaths from Covid-19 is double of what has been officially released.
She says testing protocols and diagnosis are unclear, and the United States’ catastrophic statistics may simply be the result of their more rigorous procedures. She also speculates that several million deaths over the past nearly 2 years could have been due to Covid, or exacerbated by Covid-19, but have been listed as something else.
“No country has been able to escape it.”
Then there is the almost incalculable collateral damage – patients who had to postpone their treatment and found themselves at the back of the queue. Others have simply avoided hospitals for fear of catching the virus. For example, the World Health Organization reports that deaths from tuberculosis are on the rise for the first time after decreasing over the past decade. Cases in 2020 were around 1.5 million, roughly the same number as 5 to 10 years ago.
The Lancet Medical Journal estimated, in a July report, that “… 862,365 children in 21 countries have been orphaned or lost a custodial grandparent to Covid-19. South Africa, Peru. And the United States has seen the largest number of newly orphaned children. “
The impact on healthcare systems around the world has been immense, not only the obvious challenge on intensive care beds, but also the overwhelming and overworked medical staff. The full impact of these secondary paradigms may never be fully understood.
The graph (of worldometers.info) tells its own story of the journey since January 2020 – three waves of infection visible with a fourth just starting – an indication that these pandemics historically follow quite similar patterns and that we should heed the warning that Covid- 19 is not yet finished.
GRAPHIC: Worldometers.info. Daily global infection data
GRAPHIC: Worldometers.info. Global data on daily deaths
Global death statistics show the Americas and Europe have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Peru in South America has the world’s death rate with 615 deaths per 100,000 people. Next come Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Hungary in Europe, each with more than 300 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Some health experts believe that the United States and European countries, for example, may have higher numbers of older people with underlying health conditions that were otherwise kept alive by robust health systems or quality hospitals.
The United States leads the number of deaths, 766,000+, followed by Brazil with 608,000+ and India with 458,000+ (as of October 31, 2021). Mexico, the United Kingdom, Italy and Colombia have also recorded an excessively high number of deaths from the coronavirus.
Looking in the 20-month-old rearview mirror, most of us would not have predicted this situation. The fact that many sub-Saharan countries and parts of Asia were relatively less affected also surprised pundits and health experts. WHO believes that some of the younger populations in these regions may be partly to blame for the drop in death rates.
Some of the most recent increases, in infections and deaths, are linked to governments that collapsed out of political necessity and were forced to open, despite warnings from health officials. In the UK and US, for example, the number of new infections has skyrocketed in the past 3 months, after political leaders decided to ease restrictions and get people back to work. The cost of the ongoing lockdowns to these governments, with generous stimulus and stay-at-home plans, and hampered economic machinery, has forced politicians to make the difficult decision to ‘live with the coronavirus’.
GRAPHIC: death rate in the United States (worlometers.info)
GRAPHIC: UK death rate (worlometers.info)
The coronavirus has plunged the world economy into a historically uneven and unpredictable turmoil. With stock markets rising, but economies in recession, trillions of dollars in cash practically printed out of nowhere and given away to keep economies buzzing. People are losing their jobs but invisible cryptocurrencies are increasing in perceived value. Global supply chains are now bottled up by labor shortages and the inability of manufacturers and markets to forecast demands. Experts predict this could further boost inflation, another looming threat for the next few years at least.
The cost of this farrago will resonate for decades and completely rewrite the predictability of economic data. All that stimulus money will also have to be paid back, an uncomfortable political truth facing some of the world’s largest economies. The specter of a serious crash in the US market, or at least a major correction, also looms after nearly 2 years of artificial stimulus, now that the money tap has been turned off by the US Federal Bank. The problems of the over-indebted Chinese real estate market, made worse by Covid, will also reverberate and spread far beyond local borders.
The next phase of Covid-19 around the world will see an increasingly vaccinated global population trying to get their lives back on track. It will also see the emergence of more clusters, but better medicine and knowledge will continue to reduce the death rate.
But the real impact of the various Covid vaccines remains to be assessed. Many countries, even developed ones, are struggling to get their immunization rates well over 50%. The hesitant and ongoing misinformation about Covid vaccines (or vaccines in general) is a serious challenge for medical officials to contain, or slow, the spread of Covid-19. On the African continent, the average vaccination rate is currently only around 8%.
Globally, health officials and governments are seeking to share the vast array of data that has been collected so that policymakers can anticipate the next pandemic before it happens. Much to the chagrin of many of the world’s leading health authorities, much of the science and measures known to contain a coronavirus outbreak have either been partially ignored or, in some cases, challenged by politicians with no medical training. The lessons of SARS and MERS (the two coronaviruses), less than 2 decades apart, have been well documented but have remained a dead letter. At least these two small pandemics have given laboratories around the world a head start in the development of coronavirus vaccines, making possible the rapid development, testing and deployment of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Some countries have chosen to fight alone against a highly transmissible coronavirus, which knows no borders. The borders were closed. Worse yet, in some countries various states and provinces have also carried out their own local actions with little national collaboration. The lack of a global effort led to regional epidemics and made early containment nearly impossible, unlike SARS and MERS.
But today, it behooves us all to reflect on the loss of 5 million lives, and those that will follow, as Covid-19 continues to spread. Even with the current official tally of over 247,137,000 total infections, this still only represents about 3% of the world’s population, leaving the Covid-19 virus with plenty of people to infect and time to mutate further.
If you thought Covid-19 was going to be over before Christmas this year, put your tray away and buckle up for more turbulence to come.