Global COVID-19 death toll passes 1 million

Global COVID-19 death toll passes 1 million

Global COVID-19 death toll passes 1 million
The coronavirus has claimed 1 million lives since it first emerged in China in late 2019. (Photo: AFP/PEDRO PARDO)

PARIS: The global death toll from the novel coronavirus, which emerged less than a year ago in China and has swept across the world, passed 1 million on Sunday (Sep 27).

The pandemic has ravaged the global economy, inflamed geopolitical tensions and upended lives, from Indian slums and Brazil's jungles to America's biggest city New York.

World sports, live entertainment and international travel ground to a halt as fans, audiences and tourists were forced to stay at home, kept inside by strict measures imposed to curb the virus spread.

Drastic controls that put half of humanity – more than 4 billion people – under some form of lockdown by April at first slowed its pace, but since restrictions were eased cases have soared again.

On Sunday 10.30pm GMT (Monday 6.30am, Singapore time) the disease had claimed 1,000,009 victims from 33,018,877 recorded infections, according to an AFP tally using official sources.

The United States has the highest death toll with more than 200,000 fatalities followed by Brazil, India, Mexico and Britain.

Covid-19 timeline: development of a pandemic
Timeline of key developments as COVID-19 spread across the world. (Image: AFP/John SAEKI)

For Italian truck driver Carlo Chiodi those grim figures include both his parents, whom he says he lost within days of each other.

"What I have a hard time accepting is that I saw my father walking out of the house, getting into the ambulance, and all I could say to him was 'goodbye'," said Chiodi, 50.

"I regret not saying 'I love you' and I regret not hugging him. That still hurts me," he told AFP.

READ: Chinese migrant worker who died of COVID-19 was family's sole breadwinner

With scientists still racing to find a working vaccine, governments are again forced into an uneasy balancing act: Virus controls slow the spread of the disease, but they hurt already reeling economies and businesses.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) earlier this year warned that the economic upheaval could cause a "crisis like no other" as the world's gross domestic product collapsed.

Europe, hit hard by the first wave, is now facing another surge in cases, with Paris, London and Madrid all forced to introduce controls to slow cases threatening to overload hospitals.

Masks and social distancing in shops, cafes and public transport are now part of everyday life in many cities.

Masks and social distancing are now an everyday part of life in many cities
Masks and social distancing are now an everyday part of life in many cities. (Photo: AFP/Tolga Akmen)

READ: Tired staff, but pushing on – How TTSH-NCID responded to COVID-19 from day one

Mid-September saw a record rise in cases in most regions and the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned virus deaths could even double to 2 million without more global collective action.

"One million is a terrible number and we need to reflect on that before we start considering a second million," the WHO's emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters on Friday.

"Are we prepared collectively to do what it takes to avoid that number?

WAKING UP TO COVID-19

The SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes the illness known as COVID-19 made its first known appearance in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak.

READ: China tries to flip the COVID-19 pandemic script, starring a 'reborn' Wuhan

How it got there is still unclear but scientists think it originated in bats and could have been transmitted to people via another mammal.

Wuhan was shut down in January as other countries looked on in disbelief at China's draconian controls, even as they went about their business as usual.

Wuhan went into the first lockdown after the virus emerged there
Wuhan went into the first lockdown after the coronavirus emerged there. (Photo: AFP/STR)

By Mar 11, the virus had emerged in over 100 countries and the WHO declared a pandemic, expressing concern about the "alarming levels of inaction".

Patrick Vogt, a family doctor in Mulhouse, a city that became the outbreak's epicentre in France in March, said he realised the coronavirus was everywhere when doctors started falling ill, some dying.

WATCH: How do families of COVID-19 frontline fighters really feel?

"We saw people in our surgery who had really big breathing problems, young and not-so-young who were exhausted," he said. "We didn't have any therapeutic solutions."

FRUSTRATIONS, PROTESTS

Nor did the virus spare the rich or famous this year.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a week in hospital. Madonna tested positive after a tour of France as did Tom Hanks and his wife who recovered and returned home to Los Angeles after quarantine in Australia.

The Tokyo Olympics, Rio's famed Carnival and the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca are among the major events postponed or disrupted by the pandemic. Premier League football has restarted but with empty stadiums. The French Open tennis tournament is limiting its audiences to 1,000 a day.

READ: COVID-19: In Mecca, a fortunate few pray for a pandemic-free world

Israel has gone into full lockdown again and Moscow's vulnerable have been ordered to stay home.

As the restrictions tighten, protests and anger are rising as businesses worry about their survival and individuals grow frustrated about their jobs and families in the face of another round of lockdown measures.

Some US anti-lockdown protesters think their civil liberties are being stripped
Some US anti-lockdown protesters think their civil liberties are being stripped. (Photo: AFP/Joseph Prezioso)

Anti-lockdown protesters and police clashed in central London on Saturday as officers dispersed the thousands at a demonstration.

"This is the last straw – we were starting to get back on our feet," said Patrick Labourrasse, a restaurant owner in Aix-en-Provence, a French city near Marseille which is again being forced to close down bars and restaurants.

Along with the turmoil, though, lies some hope, with Wuhan now appearing to have controlled the disease.

"Life has returned to the kind of flavour we had before," resident An An said. "Everyone living in Wuhan feels at ease."

And the IMF says the economic outlook appears brighter now than it had been in June, even if it remains "very challenging".

Crucially, nine vaccine candidates are in last-stage clinical trials, with hopes some will be rolled out next year, though questions remain about how and when they will be distributed around the world.

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Source: AFP/dv

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