Two hundred million is a huge number.
But with the world recording the 200 millionth recorded case of coronavirus infection, that staggering number – more than the populations of Germany, France and Spain combined – also fails to capture how far the virus has become embedded in humanity.
While it’s always an imperfect measure of a virus that doesn’t cause symptoms in many of the people it infects, and many infections go unreported, case numbers for much of the pandemic have provided a useful tool – like a flashing red light in the cockpit of one Jetliners warning of impending danger.
Too often, an increase in the number of cases was followed by a rush of people huddled in emergency rooms. And then, a few weeks later, the death toll has usually increased. According to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, it took the pandemic more than a year to hit its 100 millionth case and just over six months to double, with the world turning 200 on Wednesday Exceeded millions.
The number of people killed by the virus is also terrifying.
The official figures put more than 614,000 deaths in the United States, 558,000 in Brazil and 425,000 in India. Mexico has more than 240,000 fatalities, Peru nearly 200,000. Great Britain, Colombia, France, Italy and Russia have each recorded well over 100,000 deaths. The global death toll was around 4.25 million as of Wednesday – a serious underestimation, experts say given the discrepancies in the way nations record Covid deaths.
As the coronavirus continues to find new hosts around the world at high speed, the advent of the Delta variant, believed to be roughly twice as contagious as the version originally discovered in Wuhan, China, adds to a fire that has never occurred before is stopped raging.
In one week alone, from July 19 to 25, the World Health Organization registered almost four million cases – an increase of 8 percent compared to the previous week.
With many of the new infections occurring in countries without vaccines or among the unvaccinated, 69,000 Covid deaths were recorded this week.
Despite bans, travel restrictions, mask requirements, business closings, social distancing and radical changes in individual behavior, the virus continues to find a way to spread.
Some countries, such as Australia, have kept case numbers low thanks to geographic isolation and strict lockdown measures. But that may not be possible given the rise of the delta variant. And governments are facing increasingly angry protests as they try to lock down tired populations and troubled businesses.
In the past six months, however, the calculation of measuring the danger of the moment has gotten more complicated. An increase in the number of cases alone cannot in many places indicate a flood of seriously ill patients.
For countries where vaccines are scarce, the math of the pandemic remains unchanged. The Indonesian authorities reported almost 57,000 new cases in one day in mid-July, seven times as many as a month earlier, the highest since the pandemic began. Twelve days later, more than 2,000 died in a single day, and the country is now approaching 100,000 deaths from Covid-19.
Aug 4, 2021, 4:57 p.m. ET
But in countries fortunate enough and rich enough to have adequate vaccines, public health officials are keen to see how thoroughly mass vaccination campaigns have severed the link between case numbers and pressures on health systems.
In the UK, where almost all legal restrictions on social interaction were lifted on July 19, there are hopeful signs that the virus is currently running out of fuel, with nearly 75 percent of people over the age of 18 being fully vaccinated. After a steep increase in June and early July, the number of new infections has been falling for two weeks.
In the United States, with more than 90 million people eligible for vaccination who haven’t received a vaccination, experts warn that a surge in cases is inevitable this winter.
“I don’t think we’re going to see locks,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, on Sunday. “I think we have enough of the percentage of people in the country – not enough to quell the outbreak – but I think enough not to put us in the situation we were in last winter. But it gets worse. “
The spread of the virus among the vaccinated is closely monitored worldwide, much remains unknown. Are there any differences in breakthrough infections depending on the vaccine being given? How long does it take for the protection to fade? And, perhaps most importantly, how will an increase in breakthrough infections affect hospitalization rates?
Public health officials are confident that there is little evidence that the virus has found a way to escape vaccines’ primary goal: preventing serious illness and death.
But the virus is an inevitable part of our world today with 7.8 billion people.
“We need to understand that this virus is now endemic,” said Robert West, Professor Emeritus of Health Psychology at University College London and a member of the subcommittee of SAGE, a scientific body that advises the UK government on policy issues. “And that we have to think about our long-term strategies in order to deal with it as a global phenomenon.”
“It is now inevitable that we will see thousands, if not tens of thousands of deaths from this virus each year for the foreseeable future,” said Mr West, “just as we do deaths from other causes.”