Covid-19: US passes landmark death toll of 500,000

World wrap: Poland to require negative coronavirus test result to enter the country

The moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony marked the grim milestone of 500,000 US deaths from the coronavirus, the highest in the world. Video: Reuters

 

The US has now passed the once-unthinkable tally of 500,000 people dead from Covid-19 – almost matching the number of Americans killed in the second World War and the Korea and Vietnam conflicts combined.

The lives lost, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, are about equal to the population of Kansas City or Missouri, and greater than those of Miami; Raleigh, North Carolina, or Omaha, Nebraska. And despite the rollout of vaccines since mid-December, a closely watched model from the University of Washington projects more than 589,000 dead by June 1st.

The US toll is by far the highest reported in the world, and the true numbers are thought to be significantly greater, in part because of the many cases that were overlooked, especially early in the outbreak.

Average daily deaths and cases have plummeted in the past few weeks, but experts warn that dangerous new Covid-19 variants could cause the trend to reverse itself. Some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated yet for the vaccine to be making much of a difference.

The US’s top infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN: “It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic.”

The US virus death toll reached 400,000 on January 19th in the waning hours in office for president Donald Trump, whose handling of the crisis was judged by public health experts to be a failure.

The first known deaths from the virus in the US happened in early February 2020, both of them in Santa Clara County, California.

It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The toll hit 200,000 deaths in September and 300,000 in December.

Then it took just more than a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and about two months to climb from 400,000 to the brink of 500,000.

Joyce Willis of Las Vegas is among the countless Americans who lost family members during the pandemic. Her husband, Anthony Willis, died on December 28th, followed by her mother-in-law in early January.

She was unable to see him in hospital before he died because she, too, had the virus and could not visit.

“They are gone. Your loved one is gone, but you are still alive,” Mrs Willis said.

“It’s like you still have to get up every morning. You have to take care of your kids and make a living. There is no way around it. You just have to move on.”

Then came a nightmare scenario of caring for her father-in-law while dealing with grief, arranging funerals, paying bills, helping her children navigate online school and figuring out how to go back to work as an occupational therapist.

The global death toll is approaching 2.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins.

While the count is based on figures supplied by government agencies around the world, the real death toll is believed to be significantly higher, in part because of inadequate testing and cases inaccurately attributed to other causes early on.

“People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now,” Dr Fauci said later on NBC’s Meet The Press.

South Korea

Doctors in South Korea have threatened a protest strike against legislation to strip them of licences following criminal convictions, sparking fears about possible disruption of a coronavirus vaccination effort set to begin this week.

Healthcare workers are scheduled to receive the first batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from Friday, as South Korea looks to protect 10 million high-risk people by July, on its way to reaching herd immunity by November.

But over the weekend, the Korean Medical Association (KMA), the largest grouping of doctors, said it would go on strike if parliament passed a Bill to revoke the licences of doctors getting jail terms.

“The Bill might result in ordinary, innocent doctors being stripped of their licences and falling into hell because of an accident that has nothing to do with their job, or lack of legal knowledge,” spokesman Kim Dae-ha said in a statement on Monday.

Association president Choi Dae-zip has called the bill “cruel”, saying its passage into law would “destroy” current co-operation with the government to treat the virus and carry out the vaccine campaign.

No date has been set yet for the strike, the KMA told Reuters, however.

South Korea reported 332 new virus infections by Sunday, taking its tally to 87,324, and a death toll of 1,562.

Poland

Poland is expected to announce new rules this week demanding a negative coronavirus test result to enter the country, Poland’s health minister Adam Niedzielski said on Monday.

A person with a negative coronavirus test result will not have to quarantine after entering the country, Mr Niedzielski told private broadcaster TVN.

“We are aiming for the end of the week,” Mr Niedzielski said, adding that the government wasn’t planning to reintroduce broad new restrictions over the course of the coming weeks.

He said Poland is at the start of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic which is likely to peak at the end of March or beginning of April.

Coronavirus infections have increased recently, consistently reaching over 8,000 new daily cases.

Poland has loosened some restrictions, opening ski slopes as well as cinemas, hotels and theatres at up to 50 per cent capacity, but authorities have warned that these measures may have to be rolled back depending on the pandemic situation.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and other government officials have received Covid-19 vaccines as the city begins its inoculation programme.

Ms Lam and city’s health minister Sophia Chan were among the first people to receive their vaccines in Hong Kong, after about a million doses of the vaccine by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech arrived in the Chinese territory last week.

Hong Kong is to begin its inoculations on Friday after several delays in vaccine shipments to the city.

Those who will receive priority for the vaccinations include the elderly, medical workers, carers at elderly homes and employees such as airline cabin crew and cross-border drivers.

Ms Lam said: “We are very determined, very committed to rolling out a free and universal vaccination program for the people of Hong Kong so that we could get ourselves out of this epidemic as soon as possible.”

Efforts to fight the pandemic, including the vaccination programme, require the full collaboration of the people of Hong Kong, she said.

A recent poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that respondents were distrustful of the Chinese vaccine, with only about 30 per cent willing to accept it amid concerns about its low efficacy.

In contrast, 56 per cent of respondents were willing to take the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Hong Kong’s government has also ordered the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines. So far, only the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have been approved for use in the city. – AP/Reuters