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Coronavirus Update: Global death toll from COVID hits 6 million, and WHO warns pandemic is not yet over

The global death toll from COVID-19 hit 6 million early Monday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, underscoring that the pandemic, now entering its third year, is far from over.

The milestone comes as many countries are ending restrictions and scrapping the wearing of face masks, while more remote areas, including Pacific islands, are just now grappling with their first outbreaks and deaths, as the Associated Press reported.

As death rates remain high in Poland, Hungary, Romania and other Eastern European countries, the region has seen more than 1 million refugees arrive from war-ravaged Ukraine, a country with poor vaccination coverage and high rates of cases and deaths.

Ukrainian residents were on the run as Russia shelled an evacuation route in a Kyiv suburb. In the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, there were acts of defiance this weekend, including a man standing on a Russian military vehicle waving the Ukrainian flag. Photo: Oleksandr Ratushniak/Associated Press

And despite its wealth and vaccine availability, the U.S. on its own is nearing 1 million reported deaths.

The average U.S. daily COVID-19–related death count has started a more rapid decline, however, after lagging the sharp drops seen in cases and hospitalizations.

After holding steadily just below 2,000 in recent weeks, the seven-day average of deaths fell to 1,510 on Sunday, down more than 31% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker. The average daily number of cases fell to 44,386, down 57% from two weeks ago, while hospitalizations stood at 38,999, down 43% from two weeks ago.

Experts say the 6 million figure was hit some time ago, as differences in reporting standards and poor recordkeeping in many parts of the world have led to an undercount, the AP reported.

Edouard Mathieu, head of data for the Our World in Data portal, said that — when countries’ excess mortality figures are studied — the actual pandemic death toll is likely to be four times the reported count.

“Confirmed deaths represent a fraction of the true number of deaths due to COVID, mostly because of limited testing, and challenges in the attribution of the cause of death,” Mathieu told the AP. “In some, mostly rich, countries that fraction is high, and the official tally can be considered to be fairly accurate, but in others it is highly underestimated.”

The World Health Organization continues to warn that the pandemic is not over and that, as long as major parts of the world are not yet vaccinated, new variants are likely.

“The virus continues to evolve and the risk of future emergence of variants is high,” the agency said in a statement Monday, in which it urged countries to monitor wildlife after various cases of animal-to-human transmission.

Separately, the WHO, along with the heads of the IMF, World Bank and other international agencies, made its latest plea for greater vaccine equity.

“In the past few months, we have seen unprecedented levels of disease transmission across the world due to the omicron variant, the group, housed under the Multilateral Leaders Task Force, said in a statement.

“Still, unequal access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments is rampant, prolonging the pandemic. 23 countries are yet to fully vaccinate 10% of their populations, 73 countries are yet to achieve 40% coverage and many more are projected to miss the 70% target by middle of this year.”

What is an endemic and how will we know when Covid-19 becomes one? WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down how public-health experts assess when a virus like Covid-19 enters an endemic stage. Photo: Michael Nagle/Zuma Press

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Moderna
MRNA,
-7.33%

will build an mRNA manufacturing facility in Kenya. Moderna plans to manufacture drug substances at the new facility and produce up to 500 million vaccine doses there every year, at a cost of $500 million to the company.

• China’s daily total of locally transmitted COVID cases has climbed to the highest level in more than two years, with 526 cases counted Monday, 214 of which were symptomatic, the Wall Street Journal reported. That’s the highest single-day tally since the initial outbreak in Wuhan in early 2020. Most of those who tested positive on Sunday were in the eastern port cities of Qingdao and Shanghai, with others detected in the southern province of Guangdong and the northeastern province of Jilin.

• Hong Kong, which is struggling with a severe outbreak that added more than 25,000 newly confirmed cases on Monday, has also been driving the high number of infections in the neighboring province Guangdong, the Journal report continued. All of the 153 positive test results detected in the manufacturing hub of Dongguan, not far from Hong Kong, were found among people in centralized quarantine for close contacts.

• South Korea’s daily case tally remained above 200,000 Monday for a fourth straight day, the Korea Herald reported. According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s report on Monday, the country added 210,716 new COVID-19 infection cases Sunday. The government currently expects the daily figure could peak at as many as 350,000 infections a day by mid-March.

As countries loosen Covid-19 restrictions, Hong Kong is sticking to a ‘dynamic zero-Covid’ approach – with help from Beijing. A surge in cases has overwhelmed hospitals and threatens business confidence in the global financial hub. Photo: Bertha Wang/Bloomberg

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose above 446.7 million on Monday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll climbed above 6 million.

The U.S. leads the world with 79.3 million cases and 955,897 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 216 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.1% of the population. But just 95.2 million are boosted, equal to 44% of the vaccinated population.

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