The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Wednesday that the global death toll from the coronavirus had reached 4 million. The UN’s health agency urged governments to proceed with caution when lifting pandemic-fighting measures.
“The world is at a critical juncture in this pandemic,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that the latest death toll was an underestimate of the true number of deaths.
Ghebreyesus warned that sharp spikes were still occurring in some countries due to highly transmissible variants and a “shocking inequity” in access to vaccines.
“Variants are currently winning the vaccine race due to inequitable vaccine production and distribution, which also threatens global economic recovery,” he said.
Even as rapid vaccine rollouts allow life to return to normal in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, the latest million deaths occurred in just 82 days, compared to 92 days for the previous million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Because of inconsistencies in calculations around the world, the true toll could be far higher than reported.
The developing world is bearing an increasing death toll. India accounted for 26% of the increase from 3 million to 4 million deaths, while Brazil accounted for about 18%. In comparison, the United States, where more than 332 million shots have been administered, accounted for about 4% of the increase. According to the data, the United Kingdom accounted for only 1,000 of the additional deaths.
Prior to April, the United States and the United Kingdom accounted for a far greater share of new deaths worldwide, reflecting how quickly vaccination has resulted in stunning turnarounds in their pandemic performances over the last three months. “Vaccine equity is the greatest immediate moral test of our times,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement commemorating the bleak milestone. “It is also a practical requirement. Everyone is at risk until everyone is immunized.”
“The tragic loss of 4 million people to this pandemic must drive our urgent efforts to bring it to an end for everyone, everywhere,” he said.
Guterres stated that he will convene an Emergency Task Force comprised of all countries with vaccine production capacity, the World Health Organization, and international financial institutions capable of dealing with relevant pharmaceutical companies to at least double vaccine production and ensure equitable distribution.
The spread of the more transmissible delta variant is also causing outbreaks in developed countries with low vaccination rates. Sydney, Australia’s largest city, declared a state of emergency for at least a week on Wednesday to combat an outbreak that has now claimed nearly 400 lives. Taiwan, which had largely suppressed the virus until 2020, has now lost over 700 lives following a resurgence earlier this year.
Mexico, which has the world’s fourth-highest overall death toll, saw its share of the latest million deaths fall by about 5 percentage points from the previous million, owing to post-infection immunity, some vaccination, and proximity to the United States. Peru, already one of the worst-affected countries during the pandemic, updated its official death toll in June, adding more than 110,000 deaths to the previously reported total.
The South American country was responsible for approximately 4% of the most recent million deaths.
While Thailand had only recorded 100 deaths when the global toll reached 3 million, an increase in infections has increased the toll to more than 2,000, jeopardizing the country’s goal of reopening in about 100 days.
Deaths have also increased in other Southeast Asian countries. Since the previous global milestone was reached in April, Malaysia and the Philippines have each added more than 3,000 fatalities.