Global coronavirus deaths just surpass 3 million, driven by outbreaks in India and Brazil

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          Le Brésil et l'Inde connaissent des flambées dévastatrices de décès par coronavirus au milieu de pénuries de vaccins et de la montée de variantes plus contagieuses.
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          <p>Les décès de coronavirus dans le monde ont dépassé les 3 millions samedi, selon les dernières données de l'Université Johns Hopkins.  Cela signifie que plus de personnes sont mortes du coronavirus qu'habitent à Lisbonne, au Portugal ou à Chicago, dans l'Illinois.

More than a third of these deaths have occurred in just three counties: the United States, Brazil and India.

The United States accounts for by far the majority of coronavirus deaths globally, in large part due to a devastating winter wave. More than 566,000 people in the United States have died from the coronavirus so far – nearly 20% of the global total.

Brazil has reported nearly 370,000 deaths from the coronavirus in total, while India has reported around 175,000.

“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months in a pandemic where we have proven control measures,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, World Health Organization technical officer for COVID-19, earlier this week. “Now is the time for everyone to take stock and verify the reality of what we need to do. “

The world took an equally disappointing milestone in January, when coronavirus deaths surpassed 2 million. Coronavirus deaths exceeded one million in September.

But the pandemic landscape is different now: Countries are in a race to get gunshots as quickly as possible as they battle more contagious variants that in some cases may escape vaccine protection.

The supply of available vaccines is still scarce in many parts of the world: COVAX, the UN-sponsored program to ensure equal distribution of coronavirus vaccines, has only provided sufficient doses for about 0.25% of the world’s population. In low-income countries, only 1 in more than 500 people have received their vaccine, compared to 1 in 4 in high-income countries, according to the WHO.

In India and Brazil in particular, slow vaccine deployments, lack of social distancing and the spread of variants have pushed hospitals back into crisis mode.

Large gatherings abound in India as deaths rise

India has vaccinated less than 8% of its population since launching its national immunization program exactly three months ago. During this period, the average daily new coronavirus deaths have more than quadrupled, from around 180 per day to more than 1,000 per day. Local media reported long queues at hospitals, shortages of ventilators and bodies piled up in crematoriums.

“Previously, 15 to 20 bodies would arrive in a day and now around 80 to 100 corpses arrive each day,” Kamlesh Sailor, the chairman of a trust operating a crematorium in Surat, told Bloomberg earlier this week.

At the same time, local residents have rallied for big events that could fuel the spread of the virus, including election rallies, festivals and religious pilgrimages. At least 50 million Hindus crowded along the Ganges River earlier this week for a religious holiday that has now been linked to at least 2,000 cases of the coronavirus.

Like many countries, India is also facing its own local variants: Scientists in the Indian state of Maharashtra identified a new strain in March that is linked to between 15% and 20% of cases there.

A health worker administers the AstraZeneca vaccine to a member of the Gurugram police in Gurugram, India on February 5, 2021.
Vipin Kumar / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

A “raging hell of an epidemic” in Brazil

Average daily coronavirus deaths in Brazil have also doubled in the past three months, from around 950 per day to more than 2,800 per day. Overwhelmed hospitals are now running out of supplemental oxygen and sedatives.

“What you are dealing with here is a raging hell of an epidemic,” Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the WHO Director-General, said at a press briefing on April 9.

In December, Brazil became a hotspot for P.1, a more contagious variant that appears to partially evade vaccine immunity or an infectious history.

A March study suggested that P.1 was 40% to 120% more transmissible than earlier versions of the virus. Researchers from Brazil’s main public health body, Fiocruz, warned last Wednesday that the variant was mutating in “particularly disturbing” ways that could make it more resistant to vaccines.

Meanwhile, only 12% of the Brazilian population has been vaccinated so far.

Brazil coronavirus covid-19
The remains of a woman who died from complications from COVID-19 are placed in a niche by cemetery workers and relatives at Inahuma cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on April 13, 2021.
Photo AP / Silvia Izquierdo

Brazil rejected an offer to buy 70 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in August, betting instead on AstraZeneca firing to spur deployment of its vaccine. As doses from the country’s two largest laboratories are now scarce, Brazil is counting on rescue doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine.

“The big problem is that Brazil didn’t look for alternatives when it had the chance,” Claudio Maierovitch, former head of Brazil’s health regulator, told The Associated Press. “When several countries made their bets, signed contracts with different suppliers, the Brazilian government did not even have vaccination on its agenda.”

The language of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has also fueled skepticism about vaccines. Bolsonaro previously joked that Pfizer’s shot could “turn you into an alligator.”

During the pandemic, Bolsonaro also questioned the effectiveness of the masks, pushed back calls for lockdowns and suggested the virus was nothing more than a “little flu”.

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