Joginder Chaudhary was the greatest pride of his parents, who grew up on the little they earned by cultivating a half-acre piece of land in central India to become their village’s first doctor. For the coronavirus, however, it was only one more in a million. virus killed 27-year-old Chaudhary in late July, his mother cried inconsolably. Without her son, Premlata Chaudhary said, how could she have continued to live? Three weeks later, on August 18, the virus also took its own life – another number in an inexorable march to a tragic milestone. Now, 8 and a half months after an infection that doctors had never seen before, they have procured its first casualties in China, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, the pandemic̵
Joginder Chaudhary was the greatest pride of his parents, who grew up on the little they earned by cultivating a half-acre piece of land in central India to become their village’s first doctor.
For the coronavirus, however, it was only one more in a million.
After the virus killed 27-year-old Chaudhary in late July, his mother cried inconsolably. Without her son, Premlata Chaudhary said, how could she have continued to live? Three weeks later, on August 18, the virus also took his own life, another number in an inexorable march towards a tragic goal.
Now, 8 and a half months after an infection doctors had never seen before took its first casualties in China, the pandemic’s confirmed death toll has eclipsed Tuesday by 1 million, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
This is partly due to the accelerated spread of the virus in India, where reported deaths have surpassed 95,000 and cases are increasing at the fastest pace in the world.
The United States, where the virus has killed an estimated 205,000 people, is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide, far more than any other country despite its wealth and medical resources.
“It’s not just a number. It’s humans. It’s the people we love,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of medical history at the University of Michigan who advised government officials to contain pandemics. On a Thursday morning in February, Markel’s mother, 84 and infirm, was struck by a disease subsequently diagnosed as COVID-19. She died before midnight.
“They are our brothers, our sisters. They are the people we know,” said Markel. “And if you don’t have that human factor in your face, it’s very easy to make it abstract.”
Even at 1 million – more than the population of Jerusalem or Austin, Texas, more than four times the death toll from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami – the toll is almost certainly a vast underestimate.
Many deaths were likely lost due to insufficient testing and inconsistent reports and some suspected cover-ups by countries like Russia and Brazil.
And the number continues to rise. On average, nearly 5,000 deaths are reported every day. Parts of Europe are undergoing a second wave and experts fear the same fate awaits the United States.
“I can understand why … the numbers are losing their power to shock, but I still think it’s really important to understand how big these numbers really are,” said Mark Honigsbaum, the London-based author of “The Pandemic Century: One Cent. ‘years of panic, hysteria and hubris. “
Few people can testify to those numbers like Reverend Mario Carminati, a priest from the northern Bergamo province, who was hit by one of the first major epidemics in Europe last spring. When the virus engulfed local cemeteries, Carminati opened his church to the dead, lining 80 coffins in the central nave. After an army convoy took them to a crematorium, another 80 arrived. Then another 80.
“It was something completely unpredictable that came like lightning in a clear sky … and hit our reality,” he said.
Eventually the crisis receded and the world’s attention continued. But the grip of the pandemic lasts. In August, Carminati buried her nephew, Christian Persico, 34.
“This thing should make us all think. The problem is that we all think we are immortal, ”Carminati said.
The virus first appeared late last year in hospitalized patients in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The first death was reported there on 11 January. When the authorities blocked the city nearly two weeks later, millions of travelers had come and gone. The Chinese government has criticized that it has not done enough to warn other countries of the threat.
Government leaders in countries such as Germany, South Korea and New Zealand have worked effectively to contain it. Others, such as US President Donald Trump and Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro, initially dismissed the severity of the threat and the guidance of the scientists, even as hospitals were filled with seriously ill patients.
Brazil recorded the second number of deaths after the United States, with around 142,000. India is third and Mexico fourth, with over 76,000.
Oscar Ortiz, an oil rig worker for Mexican state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos, said he felt helpless while ill and quarantined this spring, as 14 of his colleagues died from the virus, three in just one week.
“It’s very painful to see him and not be able to do anything,” said Ortiz, whose company has reported more than 300 deaths in its ranks.
The virus forced compromises between security and economic well-being. The choices made have left millions of people vulnerable, especially the poor, minorities and the elderly.
India, whose government has eased tight restrictions in recent months to revive an economy where many survive on day labor earnings, is the latest example.
“When the pandemic actually started to come under control to some extent, the lockdown was loosened and then completely lifted,” said K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. “The virus had a free passage and could spread much easier.”
With so many deaths out of sight in hospital wards and clustered on the fringes of society, the milestone is reminiscent of the grim statement often attributed to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin: One death is a tragedy, millions of deaths are a statistic.
The pandemic toll of 1 million deaths in such a short time rivals some of the most serious threats to public health, past and present.
It surpasses the annual deaths from AIDS, which killed some 690,000 people worldwide last year. The virus toll is approaching 1.5 million global deaths annually from tuberculosis, which routinely kills more people than any other infectious disease.
But “COVID’s hold on humanity is incomparably greater than the hold of other causes of death,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University. He noted the unemployment, poverty and despair caused by the pandemic and the deaths from a myriad of other diseases that have not been treated.
To put the death toll alone in perspective, look to Brazil.
Nearly a decade ago, more than 900 Brazilians were killed in floods that have been widely described as the worst single day of natural disaster in the country. From late May to late August, the coronavirus killed more Brazilians than this, on average, day in and day out.
Among the victims is Caravaldina Oliveira da Costa, who worked for years as a maid in the seaside resort of Armacao dos Buzios. He also defended his neighbors in Rasa, a poor community full of descendants of runaway slaves, becoming their voice in the struggle for land rights.
“He brought something to Rasa that no politician would bring: self-confidence,” said Rejane Oliveira, his niece and disciple.
When Elder Oliveira died in June at the age of 79, the mayor of Buzios decreed three days of mourning. But the city hall has ruled out that a ceremony is held. Due to the virus, officials said, it was not safe to collect it.
Despite all its lethality, the virus has claimed far fewer victims than the so-called Spanish flu, which killed an estimated 40-50 million worldwide in two years, just over a century ago.
That pandemic came before scientists had microscopes powerful enough to identify the enemy or antibiotics capable of curing bacterial pneumonia that killed most of the victims. It also took a very different course. In the United States, for example, the Spanish flu killed around 675,000 people. But most of these deaths didn’t occur until a second wave hit the winter of 1918-19.
Until now, the disease has left only a faint footprint on Africa, a far cry from early patterns that predicted thousands more deaths.
But cases have recently increased in countries such as Britain, Spain, Russia and Israel. In the United States, the return of students to college campuses has sparked new outbreaks. With the approval and distribution of a vaccine still likely months away and the approaching winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the toll will continue to rise.
“We are only at the beginning of this. We will see many more weeks before this pandemic than we have had behind us,” said Gostin.
Already, however, too many are grieved.
“This pandemic has ruined my family,” said Rajendra Chaudhary, who lost his son, the young Indian doctor, and later his wife. “All our aspirations, our dreams, it’s all over.”