Death Toll From Coronavirus Tops 1M 09/29 06:05
8 1/2 months after an infection doctors had never seen before claimed its
first victims in China, the pandemic's confirmed death toll has eclipsed 1
million, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.
NEW DELHI (AP) -- Joginder Chaudhary was his parents' greatest pride, raised
with the little they earned farming a half-acre plot in central India to become
the first doctor from their village.
For the coronavirus, though, he was just one more in a million.
After the virus killed the 27-year-old Chaudhary in late July, his mother
wept inconsolably. With her son gone, Premlata Chaudhary said, how could she go
on living? Three weeks later, on Aug. 18, the virus took her life, too --- yet
another number in an unrelenting march toward a woeful milestone.
Now, 8 1/2 months after an infection doctors had never seen before claimed
its first victims in China, the pandemic's confirmed death toll has eclipsed 1
million, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.
That is partly due to the virus's quickening spread through India, where
reported deaths have topped 96,000 and cases are increasing at the fastest rate
in the world.
The United States, where the virus has killed about 205,000 people, accounts
for 1 out of 5 deaths worldwide, far more than any other country despite its
wealth and medical resources.
"It's not just a number. It's human beings. It's people we love," said Dr.
Howard Markel, a professor of medical history at the University of Michigan who
has advised government officials on containing pandemics. On a Thursday morning
in February, Markel's mother, 84 and infirm, was stricken by an illness later
diagnosed as COVID-19. She died before midnight.
"It's our brothers, our sisters. It's people we know," Markel said. "And if
you don't have that human factor right in your face, it's very easy to make it
Even at 1 million --- greater than the population of Jerusalem or Austin,
Texas, more than four times the number killed in the 2004 earthquake and
tsunami in the Indian Ocean --- the toll is almost certainly a vast undercount.
Many deaths were probably missed because of insufficient testing and
inconsistent reporting, and some suspect concealment by countries like Russia
And the number continues to mount. Nearly 5,000 deaths are reported each day
on average. Parts of Europe are getting hit by new outbreaks and experts fear a
second wave may await the U.S.
"I can understand why ... numbers are losing their power to shock, but I
still think it's really important that we understand how big these numbers
really are," said Mark Honigsbaum, the London-based author of "The Pandemic
Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria and Hubris."
Few people can testify to those numbers like the Rev. Mario Carminati, a
priest in the northern Italian province of Bergamo, which was hit by one of
Europe's first major outbreaks last spring. When the virus overwhelmed local
cemeteries, Carminati opened his church to the dead, lining up 80 coffins in
the center aisle. After an army convoy carted them to a crematory, another 80
arrived. Then 80 more.
"It was something completely unpredictable that arrived like a bolt of
lightning in a clear sky ... and struck our reality," he said.
Eventually the crisis receded and the world's attention moved on. But the
pandemic's grasp endures. In August, Carminati buried his nephew, 34-year-old
"This thing should make us all reflect. The problem is that we think we're
all immortal," Carminati said.
The virus first appeared late last year in patients hospitalized in the
Chinese city of Wuhan. The first death was reported there on Jan. 11. By the
time authorities locked down the city nearly two weeks later, millions of
travelers had come and gone. China's government has come in for criticism that
it did not do enough to alert other countries to the threat.
Government leaders in countries such as Germany, South Korea and New Zealand
worked effectively to contain it. Others, like U.S. President Donald Trump and
Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, dismissed the severity of the threat and the guidance
of scientists, even as hospitals filled with gravely ill patients.
Brazil has recorded the second most deaths after the U.S., with about
142,000. India is third and Mexico fourth, with more than 76,000.
Oscar Ortiz, an oil platform worker for Mexico's state-owned Petroleos
Mexicanos, said he felt helpless while ill and quarantined this spring, as 14
of his coworkers died from the virus, three in a single week.
"It's very painful to see this and not be able to do anything," said Ortiz,
whose company has reported more than 300 deaths in its ranks.
The virus has forced trade-offs between safety and economic well-being. The
choices made have left millions of people vulnerable, especially the poor,
minorities and the elderly.
India, whose government relaxed tight restrictions in recent months to
jump-start an economy where many subsist on earnings from day labor, is the
"When the pandemic actually started to get under control to some extent, the
lockdown was eased and then completely lifted," said K. Srinath Reddy,
president of the Public Health Foundation of India. "The virus had a free
passage and could spread much more easily."
With so many of the deaths beyond view in hospital wards and clustered on
society's margins, the milestone recalls the grim pronouncement 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 dead in such a limited time rivals some of
the gravest threats to public health, past and present.
It exceeds annual deaths from AIDS, which last year killed about 690,000
people worldwide. The virus's toll is approaching the 1.5 million global deaths
each year from tuberculosis, which regularly kills more people than any other
But "COVID's grip on humanity is incomparably greater than the grip of other
causes of death," said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at
Georgetown University. He noted the unemployment, poverty and despair caused by
the pandemic, and deaths from myriad other illnesses that have gone untreated.
To put the death toll, alone, in perspective, look to Brazil.
Nearly a decade ago, more than 900 Brazilians were killed in flooding that
was widely described as the country's worst-ever single day of natural
disaster. From late May to late August, the coronavirus killed more Brazilians
than that, on average, day after day.
The victims included Caravaldina Oliveira da Costa, who worked for years as
a maid in the beach resort of Armacao dos Buzios. She also stood up for her
neighbors in Rasa, a poor community filled with the descendants of escaped
slaves, becoming their voice in a fight for land rights.
"She brought something to Rasa that no politician would bring:
self-confidence," said Rejane Oliveira, her niece and disciple.
When the elder Oliveira died in June at 79, Buzios' mayor decreed three days
of mourning. But city hall ruled out holding a ceremony. Because of the virus,
officials said, it wasn't safe to gather.
For all its lethality, the virus has claimed far fewer lives than the
so-called Spanish flu, which killed an estimated 40 million to 50 million
worldwide in two years, just over a century ago.
That pandemic came before scientists had microscopes powerful enough to
identify the enemy or antibiotics that could treat the bacterial pneumonia that
killed most of the victims. In the U.S., the Spanish flu killed about 675,000.
But most of those deaths did not come until a second wave hit over the winter
Up to now, the disease has left only a faint footprint on Africa, well shy
of early modeling that predicted thousands more deaths.
But cases have recently surged in countries like Britain, Spain, Russia and
Israel. In the United States, the return of students to college campuses has
sparked new outbreaks. With approval and distribution of a vaccine still
probably months away and winter approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, the
toll will continue to climb.
"We're only at the beginning of this. We're going to see many more weeks
ahead of this pandemic than we've had behind us," Gostin said.
Already, though, far too many grieve.
"This pandemic has ruined my family," said Rajendra Chaudhary, who lost his
son, the young Indian doctor, and then his wife. "All our aspirations, our
dreams, everything is finished."