The world reached another staggering milestone on Tuesday, pushing past 20 million COVID-19 cases with 736,000 deaths — a doubling of 10 million cases in just over six weeks that shows the perils of reopening battered economies while the coronavirus spreads.
That is particularly true in the United States, with a quarter of all infections. Worldwide, 12.2 million people have recovered from COVID-19, which most commonly leads to fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath. Less common is a loss of smell, diarrhea and vomiting, and skin problems. Some people are contagious without experiencing symptoms.
Figures show the pandemic is still accelerating. Cases rose globally by 1 million, accompanied by 27,000 deaths, every four days since the 15 million mark was reached 20 days earlier. From the 10 million mark up to 15 million, cases rose globally by 1 million, with more than 24,000 deaths, every five days. It took six months for the world to reach 10 million cases.
The world's most powerful nation failed to take early measures to suppress the virus, resulting in 5 million cases and 163,000 deaths, more than two-thirds as much as the 235,000 U.S. soldiers killed in battle in World War II. Another 2.5 million Americans have recovered from the virus.
The United States leads the world in the number of infections. Brazil follows with 3 million cases; India is third with 2.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers. The average number of new cases per day in the United States is declining, but it is still more than 54,000, compared with almost 44,000 in Brazil and nearly 59,000 in India.
Measured on a per-capita basis, the average global infection rate is 2,568 cases per million people. The United States is ninth highest with 15,426 cases per million. Brazil is 11th with 14,467 cases per million. India is way down the list, however, with 1,628 cases per million.
The top five are Qatar, with 41,227 cases per million; French Guiana and Bahrain, 29,189 and 28,270 cases, respectively, per million; San Marino, 21,356 per million; and Chile, 19,628 per million.
"Behind these statistics is a great deal of pain and suffering. Every life lost matters," the World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in his opening remarks at a press briefing on Monday.
"But I want to be clear, there are green shoots of hope and no matter where a country, a region, a city or a town is — it’s never too late to turn the outbreak around," he said. "There are two essential elements to addressing the pandemic effectively: Leaders must step up to take action and citizens need to embrace new measures."
Some countries in Asia's Mekong region, New Zealand, Rwanda, and many island countries around the Caribbean and Pacific suppressed the virus early, Tedros noted, adding that other countries like France, Germany, Korea, Spain, Italy, and the U.K. suppressed major outbreaks.
No country has been spared, according to WHO. Low, middle and high-income countries have all been hit hard. Infections keep rising in Latin America, parts of the United States and Africa. The Americas remain the current epicenter of the virus, and have been particularly hit hard.
The world exceeded 15 million COVID-19 confirmed cases among 200 nations on July 22 — a quarter in the United States, which also accounted for 23% of the 618,000 deaths globally.
That came just 24 days after the world surged past 10 million coronavirus cases and 500,000 deaths, making for 1 million cases and 24,580 deaths added every five days on average. It took only six days to go from 9 million cases up to 10 million, and from 8 million cases up to 9 million.
Russia's Health Ministry approved a vaccine for the virus on Tuesday, the first nation to do so, but many scientists were skeptical about the announcement because the vaccine has only been examined using a handful of people rather than the thousands normally subjected during clinical reviews. China earlier announced it had approved a vaccine for military use.
Neither of those vaccines were subjected to the usual months-long Phase 3 clinical trials that drug makers conduct with the involvement of tens of thousands of people. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, said their vaccine already "has proven efficient and forms a stable immunity."
Several drugmakers' vaccine candidates have begun Phase 3 trials, and several more will begin later this year. Such trials in the United States are required to involve at least 30,000 people.
Tedros encouraged nations to focus on breaking chains of transmission through rapid case identification, comprehensive contact tracing, adequate clinical care for patients, physical distancing, mask wearing, regular cleaning of hands and coughing away from others.
"Whether countries or regions have successfully eliminated the virus, suppressed transmission to a low level, or are still in the midst of a major outbreak," he said, "now is the time to do it all, invest in the basics of public health and we can save both lives and livelihoods."