Global coronavirus deaths just topped 3 million, led by surges in India and Brazil

brazil covid deaths
Cemetery workers in full protective gear lower a coffin that contain the remains of a person who died from complications related to COVID-19 at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

Global coronavirus deaths surpassed 3 million on Saturday, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. That means more people have died of the coronavirus than inhabit Lisbon, Portugal or Chicago, Illinois.

More than a third of those deaths occurred in just three counties: the US, Brazil, and India.

The US represents by far the majority of the world’s coronavirus deaths, due in large part to a devastating winter surge. More than 566,000 people in the US have died of the coronavirus thus far – nearly 20% of the global total.

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

“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic where we have proven control measures,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for COVID-19, said earlier this week. “It is time right now where everyone has to take stock and have a reality check about what we need to be doing.”

The world hit a similarly sobering milestone in January, when coronavirus deaths topped 2 million. Coronavirus deaths topped 1 million in September.

But the landscape of the pandemic is different now: Countries are in a race to get shots into arms as quickly as possible as they battle more contagious variants that, in some cases, can evade protection from vaccines.

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

In India and Brazil in particular, slow vaccine rollouts, a lack of social distancing, and the spread of variants has pushed hospitals into crisis mode yet again.

Large gatherings abound in India as deaths climb

India has immunized less than 8% of its population since its national vaccine program started exactly three months ago. During that time, average new daily coronavirus deaths have increased more than four-fold, from around 180 per day to more than 1,000 per day. Local media outlets have reported long lines at hospitals, ventilator shortages, and bodies piling up at crematoriums.

“Earlier 15 to 20 bodies were coming in a day and now around 80 to 100 dead bodies are coming daily,” Kamlesh Sailor, the president of a trust operating a crematorium in Surat, told Bloomberg earlier this week.

At the same time, local residents have gathered for large events that could fuel the virus’ spread, including election rallies, festivals, and religious pilgrimages. At least 50 million Hindus crowded along the Ganga river earlier this week for a religious festival that has now been linked to at least 2,000 coronavirus cases.

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

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A health worker administers the AstraZeneca vaccine to a member of the Gurugram Police in Gurugram, India on February 5, 2021.

A ‘raging inferno of an outbreak’ in Brazil

Brazil’s average daily coronavirus deaths have also doubled in the last three months, from around 950 per day to more than 2,800 per day. Overwhelmed hospitals are now running low on supplemental oxygen and sedatives.

“What you are dealing with here is a raging inferno of an outbreak,” Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the WHO director general, said at a press briefing on April 9.

In December, Brazil become a hotspot for P.1, a more contagious variant that seems to partially evade immunity from vaccines or previous infectious.

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

Meanwhile, just 12% of Brazil’s population has been vaccinated so far.

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The remains of a woman who died from complications related to COVID-19 are placed into a niche by cemetery workers and relatives at the Inahuma cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on April 13, 2021.

Brazil rejected an offer to purchase 70 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine in August, instead betting on AstraZeneca’s shot to drive its vaccine rollout. With doses from the nation’s two biggest laboratories now in short supply, Brazil is relying on backup doses of China’s Sinovac shot.

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

Language from Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has also fueled vaccine skepticism. Bolsonaro previously joked that the Pfizer shot could “turn you into an alligator.”

Over the course of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has also questioned the effectiveness of masks, rebuffed calls for lockdowns, and suggested that the virus is no more than a “little flu.”

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1 million people have died from COVID-19 in Europe, a top World Health Organization doctor said

COVID-19 swab

At least 1 million people have died from COVID-19 in Europe, a top official from the World Health Organization said.

While speaking about the deaths in Europe, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge told reporters in Greece that the COVID-19 remains a “serious” issue even as more people get vaccinated against the virus, according to the Associated Press.

Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that more than 2.9 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide since the virus first started to spread.

The Americas have been hardest hit by the virus – with Brazil, Mexico, and the United States collectively recording more than 1.1 million deaths – but the 53-country European region that stretches into parts of Asia, is close behind.

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Dr. Deborah Birx says every American COVID-19 death after the first 100,000 could’ve been mitigated, but a Democratic lawmaker says she’s to blame for ‘enabling’ Trump

Deborah Birx
Some accused Birx of being “complicit” by not pushing back against Trump.

  • Dr. Deborah Birx said thousands of Americans died preventable COVID-19 deaths.
  • During a CNN interview, she said everything after the first surge could’ve been mitigated.
  • But some people, including Rep. Ted Lieu, responded by accusing her of enabling Trump.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Dr. Deborah Birx, a former member of the White House coronavirus response team, said thousands of Americans died preventable COVID-19 deaths and that everything after the initial surge could’ve been mitigated.

Birx was speaking during an interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the network’s upcoming coronavirus documentary that airs Sunday.

A clip of Birx’s comments was shared on Saturday.

“I look at it this way: The first time we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge,” said Birx, who served under the Trump administration. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

According to Birx, more than 80% of American deaths could have been mitigated: At this point, nearly 550,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19, per Johns Hopkins University data. The US reached 100,000 deaths by the end of May 2020.

Read more: Insider found 20 governors haven’t gotten their COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s who – and why.

Birx was a controversial member of the coronavirus task force and was often criticized for not explicitly pushing back on President Donald Trump when he contradicted the advice of public health officials and medical experts on preventing coronavirus transmission.

Some of that criticism resurfaced Saturday as the clip of her CNN interview made the rounds on Twitter.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California, who also served as an impeachment manager against Trump in January, accused Birx of being partly responsible for preventable deaths.

“The malicious incompetence that resulted in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths starts at the top, with the former President and his enablers,” Lieu said in a tweet. “And who was one of his enablers? Dr. Birx, who was afraid to challenge his unscientific rhetoric and wrongfully praised him.”

Many others on Twitter chimed in as well, accusing Birx of being complicit. Some also recirculated an old clip from March 2020 in which Birx praised Trump as being “attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data.”

She has since said she liked working on the road under the Trump administration because she wasn’t “censored” like she was at the White House.

Another doctor interviewed by CNN Saturday said he agreed with Birx about the preventable COVID-19 deaths, but that it “happened on her watch.”

“She was the White House pandemic coordinator. This was her job,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner of George Washington University said. “And if things weren’t being done to her liking, her duty was to stand up and speak up.”

As for how many deaths were preventable, Reiner compared the US to Germany, a country he says had a “mediocre” pandemic response. And yet if the US had a similar number of deaths per capita as Germany did, only 300,000 Americans would be dead.

“A quarter of a million Americans would be alive today,” he said.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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