1 million COVID-19 deaths 'an agonising milestone': UN chief

1 million COVID-19 deaths 'an agonising milestone': UN chief

FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Massachusetts
FILE PHOTO: Roberto Arias prepares a grave for burial at Woodlawn Cemetery during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Everett, Massachusetts, US, May 27, 2020. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo)

GENEVA: The World Health Organization (WHO) described the 1 million deaths from COVID-19 as an "agonising milestone", even as infections continue to rise. 

The number of deaths from the novel coronavirus this year is now double the number of people who die annually from malaria - and the death rate has increased in recent weeks as infections surge in several countries.

"Our world has reached an agonising milestone," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement on Tuesday (Sep 29).

"It's a mind-numbing figure. Yet we must never lose sight of each and every individual life. They were fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues."

It took just three months for COVID-19 deaths to double from half a million, an accelerating rate of fatalities since the first death was recorded in China in early January.

More than 5,400 people are dying around the world every 24 hours, according to Reuters calculations based on September averages, overwhelming funeral businesses and cemeteries.

That equates to about 226 people an hour, or one person every 16 seconds. In the time it takes to watch a 90-minute football match, 340 people die on average.

READ: Nine in 10 recovered COVID-19 patients experience side effects: South Korean study

"So many people have lost so many people and haven't had the chance to say goodbye. Many people who died died alone ... It's a terribly difficult and lonely death," World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a UN briefing in Geneva.

"The one positive thing about this virus is it is suppressable, it is not the flu."


Experts remain concerned that the official figures for deaths and cases globally significantly under-represent the real tally because of inadequate testing and recording and the possibility of concealment by some countries.

The response to the pandemic has pitted proponents of health measures like lockdowns against those intent on sustaining politically sensitive economic growth, with approaches differing from country to country.

The United States, Brazil and India, which together account for nearly 45 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths globally, have all lifted social distancing measures in recent weeks.

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"The American people should anticipate that cases will rise in the days ahead," US Vice President Mike Pence warned on Monday. US deaths stood at 205,132 and cases at 7.18 million by late Monday.

India, meanwhile, has recorded the highest daily growth in infections in the world, with an average of 87,500 new cases a day since the beginning of September.

READ: India reports lowest daily COVID-19 deaths since Aug 3

On current trends, India will overtake the United States as the country with the most confirmed cases by the end of the year, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government pushes ahead with easing lockdown measures in a bid to support a struggling economy.

Despite the surge in cases, India's death toll of 96,318, and pace of growth of fatalities, remains below those of the United States, Britain and Brazil. India on Tuesday reported its smallest rise in deaths since Aug 3, continuing a recent easing trend that has baffled experts.

In Europe, which accounts for nearly 25 per cent of deaths, the WHO has warned of a worrying spread in western Europe just weeks away from the winter flu season.

The WHO has also warned the pandemic still needs major control interventions amid rising cases in Latin America, where many countries have started to resume normal life.

READ: South Korea on alert over holidays despite slight drop in COVID-19 cases

Much of Asia, the first region affected by the pandemic, is experiencing a relative lull after emerging from a second wave. South Korea pleaded for people to stay at home ahead of the autumn Chuseok holiday, which begins on Wednesday, but millions are still expected to travel across the country.

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Source: Reuters/kv