Alonso Lugo helps a patient attempt to stand inside the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) department at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, the United States, on December 30, 2020.
Callaghan O’Hare | Reuters
It’s been a year since Chinese health officials said they were investigating a small group of cases of pneumonia with an unknown cause related to a fish market in Wuhan.
The new disease, later called Covid-19, would destroy the global economy, shuttle schools and small businesses, and hospitalize world leaders and millions of ordinary people.
The virus has now infected more than 85.1 million people around the world and killed nearly 1.9 million people – numbers likely lower than official figures, global health officials say.
“As people celebrated New Year’s Eve around the world, a new global threat emerged 12 months ago. Since that moment, the Covid-19 pandemic has claimed so many lives and massively destroyed families, societies and economies around the world.” World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a video address on Wednesday.
Coronavirus is still on the rise, but not as strong in countries that were forced into early lockdowns in early 2020 to help contain the disease. China has reported a weekly average of two Covid deaths per day, while the US reports an average of 2,637 daily deaths, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Three countries – the US, India and Brazil – account for nearly half of the world’s confirmed cases, according to Hopkins.
Hospitals in America, which have built an arsenal of new techniques to treat critically ill patients as the pandemic progressed, are still being overrun. Many face a shortage of health workers and space. In Los Angeles County, where demand for intensive care beds exceeds supply, at least one person dies from Covid every 10 minutes, government officials said on Wednesday.
In December alone, the deadliest month of the pandemic in the United States, more than 77,572 Americans died from the coronavirus. Now officials are pursuing a new, more contagious variant of the virus that threatens to worsen the situation in the country’s hospitals.
There is hope for the new year: vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna at unprecedented speed are making their way to the people, and more are on the horizon.
“I mean, from a public health perspective, we have really experienced significant pain, suffering and death,” said White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, opposite NBC’s “TODAY” show on Thursday. “The good news is that science can and will help us through vaccination.”
[Read more: A timeline of the insidious path the coronavirus took around the world to kill more than 1 million]
Even then, Fauci predicted that if all goes well, there won’t be enough recordings for everyone by late March or early April next year. The initial doses of vaccine that have already been shipped have been slow so far.
The US has missed its target of vaccinating 20 million people against the coronavirus by the end of the year. According to the latest census by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 13.1 million doses of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s two-dose vaccines had been distributed nationwide as of Wednesday, but only about 4.2 million had been given to humans.
“Obviously it didn’t happen, and that’s disappointing,” Fauci said Thursday of the vaccine’s slow roll-out. “Hopefully the increasing momentum in the first few weeks of January will get us to where we want to be.”
Fauci said earlier this week that he was concerned that the outbreak could also continue into January when people travel home after Christmas. The Transportation Security Administration checked 1.3 million passengers at US airports on Sunday, the highest number since Covid suspended travel in mid-March.
The recent surge in cases has gotten so “out of control” that it is difficult for public health officials to isolate cases through contact tracing, the infectious disease expert told CNN on Tuesday. Now that the holidays are over, people should avoid gathering in groups to avoid January getting worse than December, he said.
“Hopefully, as we look forward to 2021, when we get well into the year with a combination of vaccines and proper public health compliance, we can end and destroy this thing, as we did at have done other outbreaks like polio and measles and other major infectious diseases, “Fauci said on Thursday.