‘Tragic milestone’: 1M people have died of COVID-19 so far this year, WHO says

One million people have died from COVID-19 so far this year — a grim global milestone reached this week that demonstrates the world is not “learning to live” with the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.

Since the pandemic began more than two-and-a-half years ago, a total of more than 6.4 million people have died from COVID-19 across the globe, according to WHO data.

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This week’s additional deaths mean now, even though the year is far from over, 2022 has contributed one million deaths to this total — and counting.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called this a “tragic milestone” and a preventable one that begs for more action to reduce the spread of the virus.

“We cannot say we are learning to live with COVID-19 when one million people have died with COVID-19 this year alone, when we are two-and-a-half years into the pandemic and have all the tools necessary to prevent these deaths,” Tedros said during a briefing in Geneva Thursday.

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He reiterated the WHO’s calls for all countries to strengthen efforts to vaccinate their populations, especially health workers, seniors and those most vulnerable to adverse outcomes. Countries should be aiming for at least 70 per cent vaccine coverage, Tedros said.

Globally, the number of new weekly cases decreased by nine per cent last week over the previous week, with over 5.3 million new cases reported as of Aug. 21, according to WHO data.

The number of new weekly deaths also decreased, but by a slightly higher rate of 15 per cent, as compared with the previous week, with more than 14,000 fatalities reported globally last week.

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At the country level, the highest numbers of new weekly cases last week were reported from Japan, with 1.4 million new cases, the Republic of Korea with more than 884,000 and the United States with more than 612,000 new cases.

The highest number of new weekly deaths were reported in the U.S. with 2,714 deaths, Japan with 1,624 deaths and Brazil with 1,105 deaths, as of Aug. 21, according to global data compiled by the WHO.

However, the UN agency warns that current trends in reported COVID-19 cases and deaths should be interpreted with caution, as many countries have been progressively changing COVID-19 testing strategies, resulting in lower overall numbers of tests performed and consequently lower numbers of cases detected.

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Canada, meanwhile, has seen a total of 43,505 COVID-19-related deaths in the country since the pandemic began, including 251 people who died during the week of Aug. 7 to 13, according to the latest available data from Health Canada.

Tedros praised progress among some of the countries with the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates that have seen these rates grow in recent months. Now, only 10 countries still have less than 10 per cent coverage, most of which are facing humanitarian emergencies, Tedros said.

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Still, more must be done to combat this illness and stop preventable deaths, he said.

“All countries at all income levels must do more to vaccinate those most at risk, to ensure access to life-saving therapeutics, to continue testing and sequencing and to set tailored, proportionate policies to limit transmission and save lives.”