Confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 70 million with 1.58 million deaths on Friday, as the pandemic raged out of control and nations pinned hopes on rolling out vaccines in record time and scale.
The staggering figure arrived just 16 days after the world reached the 60 million mark with 1.25 million deaths, a day faster than the previous 10 million infections. The United States alone accounted for 15.7 million, or 22%, of all cases, with 293,785 deaths and nearly 6 million recovered.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the United Kingdom's rollout of vaccines "an astounding scientific achievement," but an even greater achievement would be to give all nations equal access to them.
"We have all seen images of people being vaccinated against COVID-19. We want to see these same images all over the world, and that will be a true sign of solidarity," he told a news briefing on Friday. "The pandemic has demonstrated that health is not a luxury; it is the foundation of social, economic and political stability."
The infection rate, showing the pandemic keeps accelerating, rose to 8,986 per 1 million people globally. That is up from 7,770 per 1 million at the 60 million mark on November 25; 6,426 per 1 million at the 50 million mark on November 8; and 5,151 per 1 million at the 40 million mark on October 19.
More than 45 million people have now recovered from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers.
Fourteen nations surpassed 1 million infections — the United States; India (9.7 million); Brazil (6.7 million); Russia (2.5 million); France (2.4 million); the United Kingdom and Italy (1.8 million each); Spain (1.7 million); Argentina (1.4 million); Colombia (1.39 million); Germany (1.29 million); Mexico (1.2 million); Poland (1.1 million); and Iran (1 million) — up from 11 nations when the 60 million mark arrived last last month. Peru and Turkey were not far behind them, each with more than 900,000 cases.
Tedros said the number of weekly deaths over the past six weeks rose by about 60%, with most of the deaths in Europe and the Americas, meaning the holiday season over the next several weeks is not a time for people to let up their guard.
"Celebration can very quickly turn to mourning if we fail to take the right precautions. As you prepare to celebrate over the coming weeks, please consider your plans carefully," he advised. "If you live in an area with high transmission, please take every precaution to keep yourself and others safe. That could be the best gift you could give — the gift of health, life love, joy and hope."