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Accelerating toll: COVID-19 deaths hit 5 million as world battles variants

It took just over a year after disease emerged to reach toll of 2.5 million, but next 2.5 million deaths occurred in under 8 months, according to Reuters analysis

In this image provided by the University of Utah Health, medical professionals look after a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit on July 30, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (Charlie Ehlert/University of Utah Health via AP)
In this image provided by the University of Utah Health, medical professionals look after a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit on July 30, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (Charlie Ehlert/University of Utah Health via AP)

The global COVID-19 death toll surpassed five million people this weekend, according to a Reuters tally Saturday, as the world continues to battle the highly contagious Delta variant.

It took just over a year since the coronavirus emerged to hit a death toll of 2.5 million, but the next 2.5 million deaths occurred in just under eight months, according to the Reuters analysis.

Over half of all deaths reported on a seven-day average were in the United States, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and India, Reuters reported.

Overall, the pandemic has shown a slowing down around the world in recent weeks, after the Delta variant led to a surge in infections in many countries, according to an AFP tally Friday.

The number of new daily cases decreased by 11 percent globally to 457,000, the news agency said.

The situation improved in most regions of the world this week, with a 31 percent drop in Latin America and the Caribbean, a 21 percent drop in the Middle East, while the number of cases in Asia was down 15 percent. There was a tenth less in the United States and Canada.

The situation was also stable in Africa where infections were down one percent, and in Europe (up three), but there was an 11 percent rise in Oceania, where the number of cases nevertheless remained small.

The US remained by far the country with the biggest number of new cases, with 113,000 per day, a drop of 11 percent, followed by the United Kingdom with 34,500 per day, up six percent and Turkey, which had an 11 percent drop.

On a per capita basis, the country that recorded the most new cases this week was Serbia with 681 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, ahead of Mongolia with 511 and Lithuania 450

The US also recorded the biggest number of deaths with 1,924 per day followed by Russia with 830 — striking a record for the fourth day in a row on Friday at 887 — and Brazil with 541.

On Friday, the US neared 700,000 deaths overall since the pandemic began.

In this Sept. 17, 2021, file photo, Zoe Nassimoff looks at white flags that are part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s temporary art installation, “In America: Remember,” in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington. Nassimoff’s grandparents who lived in Florida died from COVID-19. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

Deaths and vaccine hesitancy

Health experts said the fourth wave of the pandemic has peaked overall in the US, particularly in the Deep South, where hospitals were stretched to the limit weeks ago. But many Northern states are still struggling with rising cases, and what’s ahead for winter is far less clear.

Unknowns include how flu season may strain already depleted hospital staff and whether those who have refused to get vaccinated will change their minds.

An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, providing kindling for the highly contagious Delta variant.

In this file photo from June 29, 2021, a man receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at an outdoor vaccination center set up by the French Red Cross at Republique square in Paris. (Martin Bureau/AFP)

“If you’re not vaccinated or have protection from natural infection, this virus will find you,” warned Mike Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

The easing of the summer surge has been attributed to more mask-wearing and more people getting vaccinated. The decrease in case numbers could also be due to the virus having burned through susceptible people and running out of fuel in some places.

All treatments now authorized in the US against the coronavirus require an IV or injection.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, warned on Friday that some may see the encouraging trends as a reason to remain unvaccinated.

“It’s good news we’re starting to see the curves” coming down, he said. “That is not an excuse to walk away from the issue of needing to get vaccinated.”

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