The world marks 1m deaths from covid-19

NINE MONTHS have passed since the first death from a mysterious virus in Wuhan, China. That virus, SARS-CoV-2, has now claimed the lives of 1m people around the world, according to a comprehensive tally by Johns Hopkins University. The number of people known to have been infected with covid-19 is estimated to be more than 33m.

The true tally of cases and deaths is likely to be higher still. Consider the results of serosurveys, which test for covid-19 antibodies in blood samples. Data gleaned from 279 such surveys administered in 19 countries suggest that somewhere between 500m and 730m people have been infected with covid-19 to date. Deaths are being undercounted, too. Official mortality statistics derived from death records, and compiled by The Economist, show that, in the 16 countries for which data are available, there were 900,000 “excess” deaths as a direct or indirect result of covid-19 between March and August. The official toll from the coronavirus among those countries, which includes America, Brazil and parts of western Europe, is just 580,000, suggesting that the true death toll from covid-19 is perhaps twice as high as we think.

Many countries are already suffering second waves. Cases are currently rising fastest in western Europe. On September 27th alone, a record 46,000 new cases were recorded across 40 countries in the region. But the rising number of cases has not translated into nearly as many deaths this time. This is largely because testing is about four times more prevalent now than it was in the spring, and many of the people testing positive are younger. Covid-19 is also becoming less deadly. This has had the effect of pushing down the case-fatality rate—the percentage of cases that result in deaths—from a high of 14% in May to less than 1% since August. This is good news. But with hospital admissions on their way back up, this figure will probably increase.

The virus shows no sign of abating. The number of people testing positive for covid-19 around the world has been rising by over 200,000 a day since July 10th. On September 24th a record 360,000 new cases were recorded. Since April 4th, at least 5,000 people have lost their lives to the disease every day. It took 140 days to go from 1,000 to 500,000 deaths; but just 91 days to reach 1m. At current rates, another 500,000 people are likely to die within the next 75 days.

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