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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Explained: 3 million global Covid-19 deaths and the top 4 contributors

The world did not record one million deaths until September 28, but had recorded two million by February 21, less than five months later. And the latest million was recorded in under two months.

Written by Rounak Bagchi , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: April 22, 2021 9:21:22 am
global covid deaths, coronavirus deaths, global covid toll, covid 19 news, covid death toll worldwide, indian expressA patient who died of Covid-19 gets buried at a graveyard in New Delhi, Friday. (Express Photo: Amit Mehra)

The world’s Covid death toll has crossed yet another grim milestone — the 3 million-mark. With the virus having upended the lives of people across the globe, countries have been struggling to combat infections which keep re-emerging thanks to mutations.

As countries try vaccinating as many as possible to curb the rapidly spreading new variants of the coronavirus, the pace of deaths has been accelerating, recently surging past the 3 million-mark.

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The world did not record one million deaths until September 28, but had recorded two million by February 21, less than five months later. And the latest million was recorded in under two months.

The United States, Brazil and Mexico lead the world when it comes to Covid-19 deaths but India, too, is not far behind as it has been recording daily highs over the last few weeks.

With no respite in sight, we take a look at what went wrong in the countries recording such a high number of Covid-related deaths.


When the pandemic hit, a study by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security assessed 195 countries and stated that the US would best manage the crisis. Clearly, that is not how it turned out.

In the United States, more than 564,800 virus-related deaths have been confirmed, about one in 567 people — the most of any other country.

America’s problems start right from the top. Former President Donald Trump, for weeks, had refused to address the pandemic. Later, he even admitted that “he wanted to play it down as he did not wish to create a panic”. Coupled with this were testing and contact tracing inadequacies in the initial days, states reopening ahead of his own administration’s guidelines and statistics being cherry-picked to make the US situation look better than it was.

Trump did not wear a mask in public until July 11. A Pew Research Center survey found that only 29% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believed in the use of masks. Added to this was the low levels of testing in the initial days as Trump had said, “If we didn’t do testing, we’d have no cases.” Experts believe that America could not stem the spread of the virus as it was initially only testing people who got sick.


Brazil, at 368,749 deaths, has the second highest toll in the world and experts warn that the current surge may not peak for several weeks. In recent weeks, it has accounted for around one in four of reported Covid deaths worldwide.

Here, political infighting and distrust of science have largely led to the deaths. Like Trump in the US, President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, too, has largely dismissed the dangers and have resisted calls for a lockdown.

Bolsonaro had called Covid “just a little flu”, rejected a nationwide lockdown saying such measures only made the poor poorer, called state governors and mayors who imposed lockdown “tyrants” and cast doubts on the efficacy and safety of jabs, saying the Pfizer vaccine would “turn people into crocodiles”.

A recent estimate from the University of Washington predicted that Brazil could see a total of more than 500,000 deaths by July.

Regional leaders say mixed messaging and a resistance to lockdowns at the national level have made local restrictions harder to enforce. Hospital intensive care beds in many states across the country are full or close to capacity.

Added to this is the poor vaccination programme in the country with just half the target of 46 million vaccine doses being delivered till the end of March. Although Brazil has now ordered enough doses to vaccinate its entire population, critics say it is far too late as other large countries with similar purchasing power are ahead in the queue.


A report by the University of California, San Francisco, showed that Mexico’s unwillingness to spend money on healthcare systems, conduct more tests, change course of treatment or react to new scientific evidence contributed to the country being one of the worst hit by the pandemic.

Mexico’s Health Department says there have been 211,693 deaths in the country of 126 million, but because so little testing is done, it acknowledges the real toll is around 330,000. Although the United States and Brazil have higher tolls, they also have a much larger population.

The failure by officials to recommend face masks, institute travel restrictions, provide enough testing and protective equipment and institute social distancing measures were among the mistakes cited by the report which was commissioned by the World Health Organization’s Independent Panel to the Institute for Global Health.

“Key decisions about how to confront the health crisis were based on unwarranted assumptions, without sufficient evaluation and judgement of the risks,” according to the report, which cited excessive concentration of authority and “a government communication campaign that prioritized keeping up appearances, and partisan politics, before health”.

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Having recorded 175,649 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, India, although on number four on the list, have fared better than most.

Coronavirus deaths in India are low no matter which parameter is assessed. The best parameter is Infection Fatality Rate (IFR). It measures deaths as a proportion of total infections (and not just confirmed infections). Total infections are estimated through serosurveys. The IFR in India is 0.08% according to initial government surveys. The US estimate is about 0.6%, about eight times that of India. Almost half the difference can be attributed to India’s relative younger population.

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