The global death toll from the coronavirus eclipsed a million on Tuesday, nine months after the start of a crisis that devastated the global economy, tested the resolve of world leaders, pitted science against politics and forced multitudes to change their way of living, learning and working.
“It’s not just a number. They are human beings. These are the people we love, ”said Dr. Howard Markel, professor of medical history at the University of Michigan who has advised government officials on pandemic control and lost his 84-year-old mother to COVID -19 in February.
“They are our brothers, our sisters. These are people we know, ”he added. “And if you don’t have that human factor in front of you, it’s very easy to make it abstract. ”
The dark milestone, recorded by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of Jerusalem or Austin, Texas. It is two and a half times the sea of humanity that was in Woodstock in 1969. It is more than four times the death toll in the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
Even so, the figure is almost certainly a considerable undercoverage due to inadequate or inconsistent testing and reporting and suspicion of cover-up by some countries.
And the number continues to increase. Almost 5,000 deaths are reported every day on average. Parts of Europe are hit by a second wave and experts fear the same fate awaits the United States, which accounts for an estimated 205,000 dead, or 1 in 5 worldwide. It is more than any other country, despite America’s wealth and medical resources.
“I can understand why… the numbers are losing their shocking power, but I still think it’s really important that we understand the true magnitude of those numbers,” said Mark Honigsbaum, author of “The Pandemic Century: One Hundred” Years of Panic, Hysteria and Hubris. ”
The global tally includes people like Joginder Chaudhary, who was his parents’ greatest pride, raised with what little they earned cultivating a half-acre plot in central India to become the first doctor. of their village.
After the virus killed Chaudhary, 27, in late July, her mother cried inconsolably. With her son gone, Premlata Chaudhary said, how could she continue to live? Three weeks later, on August 18, the virus also claimed his life. In total, he killed more than 95,000 people in India.
“This pandemic has ruined my family,” said the young doctor’s father, Rajendra Chaudhary. “All our aspirations, our dreams, it’s all over.”
When the virus invaded cemeteries in the Italian province of Bergamo last spring, Reverend Mario Carminati opened his church to the dead, lining up 80 coffins in the central aisle. After an army convoy transported them to a crematorium, 80 more arrived. Then 80 more.
Eventually, the crisis receded and the world’s attention shifted. But the hold of the pandemic continues. In August, Carminati buried her 34-year-old nephew.
“This thing should give us all pause. The problem is, we think we are all immortal, ”the priest said.
The virus first appeared in late 2019 in hospital patients in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first death was reported on January 11. By the time authorities locked the city down almost two weeks later, millions of travelers had come and gone. The Chinese government has criticized it for not doing enough to alert other countries to the threat.
The heads of government of countries like Germany, South Korea and New Zealand have worked effectively to contain it. Others, like US President Donald Trump and Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro, dismissed the seriousness of the threat and the advice of scientists, even as hospitals were filled with critically ill patients.
Brazil has recorded the second highest death toll after the United States, with around 142,000 people. India is third and Mexico fourth, with more than 76,000 people.
The virus has forced tradeoffs between security and economic well-being. The choices made have left millions of people vulnerable, especially the poor, minorities and the elderly.
With so many deaths hidden from view in hospital wards and clustered on the fringes of society, this milestone recalls the grim statement often attributed to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin: One death is a tragedy, millions of deaths are a statistic.
The pandemic’s toll of 1 million deaths in such a short time rivals some of the most serious threats to public health, past and present.
It exceeds annual deaths from AIDS, which killed an estimated 690,000 people worldwide last year. The virus toll is approaching 1.5 million deaths worldwide each year from tuberculosis, which regularly kills more people than any other infectious disease.
But “COVID’s hold on humanity is incomparably greater than the hold of other causes of death,” said Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University. He noted the unemployment, poverty and hopelessness caused by the pandemic and deaths from a myriad of other diseases that went untreated.
Despite all its lethality, the virus has claimed far fewer lives than the so-called Spanish flu, which killed between 40 and 50 million people worldwide in two years, just over a century ago.
This pandemic came before scientists had microscopes powerful enough to identify the enemy or the antibiotics capable of treating the bacterial pneumonia that killed most of the victims. He also took a very different course. In the United States, for example, the Spanish flu killed an estimated 675,000 people. But most of these deaths did not occur until the second wave hit the winter of 1918-1919.
So far, the disease has left only a small mark on Africa, a far cry from early models which predicted thousands more deaths.
But cases have recently increased in countries like Britain, Spain, Russia and Israel. In the United States, the return of students to college campuses has sparked further outbreaks. With the approval and distribution of a vaccine still likely in months and winter approaching in the northern hemisphere, the toll will continue to climb.
“We’re only just starting. We’re going to see a lot more weeks before this pandemic than we’ve had behind us, ”Gostin said.