‘Pandemic far from over,’ world nears a grim milestone of 5 million Covid-19 deaths

With nearly two years into the coronavirus pandemic, the world is nearing a grim threshold of 5 million deaths. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently warned that the pandemic is far from over, calling for a “global coordination” to end it.

In a press briefing on October 28, WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted a rise in the global number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, driven by Europe.

According to the John Hopkins University’s resource centre on Covid-19, the world had recorded 4,999,609 deaths as of November 1. The United States has recorded the highest number of fatalities, with 745,832 deaths, followed closely by Brazil, which has recorded 607,824 deaths. India, according to the John Hopkins data, has the third-highest death toll, with 458,186 fatalities. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has recorded 141,055 deaths so far.

A woman cycles past the National Covid Memorial Wall on the South Bank in front of St Thomas’ Hospital in London. (AP)

However, experts have often argued that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is far worse than recorded figures, relying on the excess deaths as a better representation. Excess deaths, according to the WHO, is the difference in the total number of deaths in a crisis compared to those expected under normal conditions. The Economist, for instance, estimates the actual death of the Covid-19 pandemic globally at 16.7 million.

Memorials across the world

Countries across the world have dealt with loss and grief in the last two years, reeling under climbing death tolls, virulent variants and the economic impact of the pandemic. “Covid-19 has destroyed lives and livelihoods, impacted our politics and the economy. It has shown that health is central, and should not be treated as a cost, but as an investment,” WHO director general said on Thursday.

Several countries have put up memorials to honour the dead. In Italy’s Bergamo city, a living monument has come up in the park opposite the hospital where many died due to lack of oxygen.  A 100 trees of the 700 planned for the ‘Wood of Memory’ have been planted, news agency AP reported.

In the US, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg had put up a temporary art installation at the National Mall in Washington, “In America: Remember,” with scores of white flags, to commemorate Americans who have died of Covid-19.

A woman walks with her dog through the Wood of Memory, created in remembrance of those who have died of Covid-19, at the Parco della Trucca, in Bergamo, Italy. (AP)

Similarly, in Brazil’s capital, thousands of white flags were planted in front of Brazil’s Congress by the kin of Covid-19 victims, while in South Africa, blue and white ribbons were tied to a fence at the St James Presbyterian Church in Bedford Gardens, east of Johannesburg. Each blue ribbon accounted for 10 lives, while white accounted for one, in order to remember the country’s 89,000 dead, according to AP.

In India, too, an online memorial http://www.nationalcovidmemorial.in was launched in February. It invites submissions, verified with death certificates, and currently accounts for only a tiny fraction of the death toll in the country, with 250 tributes.

Call for global coordination, mass vaccination

The grim mark of 5 million deaths serves as an urgent reminder to accelerate vaccination drives across the world. According to the New York Times tracker, a little over 50 per cent of the world population has been vaccinated with at least one dose against the coronavirus. Whereas, only 39 per cent of the world has been fully vaccinated. The U.A.E tops the chart with 89 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, followed by Portugal at 86 per cent.

Meanwhile, India recently reported having vaccinated 25 per cent of its population with two doses.

A mother and child look at ribbons tied to the perimeter fencing of the St. James Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg. (AP)

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid, had also warned during the press briefing that approaching winters and the mutating delta variant could fuel a surge in cases. For instance, the delta sub-lineage, AY.4.2. has gained prevalence in the UK. In India, the figures remain low. At least 18-20 sequences of the sub-lineage of the Delta – AY.4.2 — have been identified from over 19,000 samples collected from Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Jammu and Kashmir between May-end and mid- September this year.

Meanwhile, the WHO chief stated that the pandemic persists in large part because of inequitable access to tools. 80 times more tests and 30 times more vaccines have been administered in high-income countries as compared to low-income countries, Dr Ghebreyesus said. “If the 6.8 billion doses administered globally, had been administered equitably, we would have reached 40 per cent target in every country now,” he said, urging the world to come together to defeat the virus.

By William Regal

Used to think I was a tad indecisive, but now I’m not quite sure.

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