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Global COVID-19 infections top 150 million

Two of every five cases were in the United States, India and Brazil alone — with more than 3.1 million deaths and 87 million recoveries worldwide.

Health checks in India
Health checks in India (AN/Gwydion Williams)

Confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide surpassed 150 million — two of every five cases in the United States, India and Brazil alone — with more than 3.1 million deaths and 87 million recoveries as of Thursday.

The infection rate, which shows the pandemic is still going strong, rose to 19,184 per 1 million people globally. That is up from 12,783 per 1 million at the 100 million mark on January 26, and from 6,426 per 1 million at the 50 million mark on November 8.

One of every five cases worldwide, or 32.2 million, were in the United States, where at least 574,000 people have died from COVID-19 — one of every 577 people among a population of more than 331 million — but more than half of the population aged 16 and older that is eligible to be vaccinated has received at least one shot.

In late January, as the number of people with confirmed infections of coronavirus surged past 100 million, one of every four cases was in the United States and one-in-785 had died — 423,000 in all — since the pandemic began last year.

But as the United States was slowly pulling itself back from the brink owing to its widespread vaccinations, the crisis deepened in India, with 18.4 million infections and at least 204,000 deaths, and in Brazil, with 14.5 million infections and more than 400,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers. France, Turkey and Russia also have been particularly staggered by a recent surge in cases.

India became the fourth nation on Wednesday to suffer more than 200,000 deaths, after the United States, Brazil and Mexico. India's government is reporting more than 300,000 new infections daily, the most anywhere, yet those are likely an undercount of the real figures with many citizens afraid to go outside.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi staged rallies to assure people things are improving, yet his nation has fully vaccinated less than 2% of its nearly 1.4 billion population despite being the world's biggest vaccine producer.

The nation has sent many of those vaccines abroad while its health system and social structures are devastated by the crisis, with hospitals running out of beds and oxygen and overwhelmed crematoriums building makeshift funeral pyres.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro eased up on restrictions, prompting crowded buses, trains and shopping malls. On Thursday, Brazil reached the grim milestone of 400,000 deaths, second-highest behind the United States, with patients packed in intensive care units and cemeteries unable to bury all the dead.

Club of 26 with million-plus cases

More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been rolled out and 92 vaccine candidates are going through clinical trials around the world, according to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Geneva-based international organization that is a co-leader of the COVAX Facility’s multilateral efforts to accelerate the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee all nations will have fair and equitable access.

Gavi, along with other co-leaders of COVAX — the World Health Organization, also headquartered in Geneva, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, based in Oslo, Norway — have said their agreements with several drugmakers will provide participating and eligible member nations with access to enough doses for protecting vulnerable groups this year.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, however, has repeatedly warned of extreme inequities between rich and poor nations that threaten the world's ability to fight COVID-19. "Inequitable access to vaccines is one of the defining challenges of the pandemic," Tedros told a meeting on Thursday.

"So far, more than 1 billion doses have been administered globally, but 82% of those have been in high- and upper-middle income countries, while just 0.3% have been administered in low-income countries," he said. "The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the urgent need for more resilient health systems that can ensure uninterrupted availability, affordability and equitable access to medicines and medical technologies."

As a region, the Americas lead, with 61.4 million infections, and Europe is second, with 51.2 million cases, according to WHO figures. Next is Southeast Asia, with 21 million; Eastern Mediterranean, 9 million; Africa, 3.3 million; and Western Pacific, 2.4 million.

Twenty-six nations surpassed 1 million infections: the United States, India and Brazil, followed by France (5.6 million); Turkey and Russia (4.7 million each); the United Kingdom (4.4 million); Italy (4 million); Spain (3.5 million); Germany (3.4 million); Argentina (2.9 million); Colombia (2.8 million); Poland (2.8 million); Iran (2.5 million); Mexico (2.3 million); Ukraine (2.1 million); Peru (1.8 million); Indonesia and Czech Republic (1.6 million each); South Africa and the Netherlands (1.5 million each); Canada (1.2 million); Chile (1.1 million); and Iraq, Romania and the Philippines (1 million each).

That was up from 19 nations that had at least 1 million infections when the 100 million mark arrived.