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Covid: World tops 300 milion known virus cases


It took more than a year for the world to record the first 100 million Covid-19 cases, and half that time to tally the next 100 million. The third 100 million have come even faster, in barely five months, as large segments of countries, rich and poor alike, remain unvaccinated and a wily new variant has proved able to infect even those who are. Case counts, though imperfect, have been a key barometer throughout the pandemic, a bench mark not only for governments implementing mitigation measures but also for people trying to discern the threat in their own communities. Yet surpassing 300 million known cases – which was recorded on Thursday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally – comes as a growing number of experts argue that it is time to stop focusing on case numbers.
So far, the new Omicron variant appears to produce severe illness in fewer people than previous versions of the virus did, and research indicates that Covid vaccines still offer protection against the worst outcomes. And though cases are rising faster than ever – the US, Australia, France and many other nations are seeing record surges – hospitalisations and deaths from Covid are increasing more slowly. But experts do worry that the sheer number of possible cases may still burden health care systems. This week, US’ top expert Anthony Fauci suggested that it was time to stop focusing on case counts. “As infections become less severe, it is much more relevant to focus on hospitalisations,” he said.
About 60% of the world has received at least a single dose of a Covid vaccine, but nearly three-quarters of all the shots have been administered in the world’s wealthiest nations, leaving people in parts of Africa and Asia vulnerable. About 80% of adults in the EU have now been vaccinated, the European Commission tweeted.
In the US, daily cases have risen fivefold over the past month, while hospitalisations have merely doubled. In France, average daily cases have quadrupled to a record, while hospitalisations have risen by about 70% and deaths have doubled, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. The trend suggests that the grim cadence seen for the past two years – a wave of infections, followed by a matching surge of hospitalisations, then deaths – has been altered, in large part because of the protection offered by vaccines.
And because of the widening availability of at-home tests in the US and Europe, official case numbers – which scientists have long argued are an undercount – may diverge more than ever from actual totals. Case numbers “definitely mean less than they did”, said Robert West, a professor of health psychology at University College London. “If we had this number of infections then, we’d have had an astronomical number of deaths.”Still, the known death toll remains devastating: over 830,000 in the US, 620,000 in Brazil, nearly half a million in India. In many developing nations with huge gaps in health data, the true number may never be known. What is clear, many experts say, is that the virus will likely become endemic, something the world will have to live with for years to come, like the flu – and that by the time the world records case 400 million, as it surely will, that statistic will mean even less than it does now.

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