The global number of lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 — the respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus — doubled in approximately six weeks, after surpassing the 10-million mark on June 28.
That 20-million figure is likely a “real underestimate” of the true number of infections to date, according to Dr. Anna Banerji, a paediatric infectious disease specialist and associate professor at the University of Toronto’s school of public health.
“I think the true number is probably five, maybe even 10 times higher than the actual number of cases,” Banerji said.
With more than five million cases, the United States accounts for about a quarter of the total cases worldwide, representing the largest number of infections in any country.
More than three million cases have been reported to date in Brazil, according to the Johns Hopkins data available online.
India has the third-highest number, with just over 2.2 million cases. Since mid-June, the country has averaged around 50,000 new infections daily. More recently, India recorded more than 60,000 cases of COVID-19 daily over the last four days and more infections that any other country in the world for the last six consecutive days.
“People aren’t going into hospitals to get tested,” she said. “First of all, it’s expensive for them, potentially, and there are a lot of other things out there like malaria, typhoid, dengue, etc., so they may think this is just one of those other common infections.
“And if people are dying in the rural areas, in some of these less-resourced countries, you may not know what they’re dying from.”
But even in more resource-rich countries — like Canada and the United States — cases are likely still unreported for other reasons, Banerji added. In the U.S., some states and communities are “overwhelmed” or people may not have health care coverage for the test, she said.
On top of that, COVID-19 tests have “a fairly high false negative rate,” Banerji said, and people who may have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all may never go in for testing.
Rate of infection continues to accelerate
The grim pandemic milestone comes as the rate of infection worldwide continues to accelerate this summer.
It took 39 days for the global COVID-19 case load to increase from five million (May 20) to 10 million (June 28), but then 24 days — less than a month — to surge from 10 million (June 28) to 15 million (July 22).
After that, the total surged by about a million cases every four days. The leap from 15 million (July 22) to 20 million cases only took 19 days.
This illustrates just how easily COVID-19 can spread, Banerji said.
“I think this is the most infectious disease that we’ve had in at least the last century, but it could be several centuries,” she told Global News.
“If you look at what’s happening in Brazil or what’s happening in India, it’s a huge escalation.”
Several European countries hard-hit by COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic — including Italy, Spain, France, Britain and Germany — are also trying to manage resurgences of the virus.
Reported death toll creeps closer to 1 million
In seven months, the virus has claimed the lives of more than 732,000 people around the world, according to the Johns Hopkins data. More than 163,000 of those deaths have occurred in the United States.
Brazil — which has been reporting an average of 1,000 deaths daily since late May — has the second-highest death toll, with just over 101,000 fatalities. Mexico follows, having recently surpassed 52,000 deaths.
By Johns Hopkins’ count, the virus has claimed the lives of more than 207,000 people in all of Europe.
In China, where the virus is believed to have originated at a live market, more than 4,600 people have died from COVID-19 and 88,862 cases have been confirmed, according to the Johns Hopkins data.
More than 12.1 million people infected with the virus globally — or roughly 60 per cent of all cases — have recovered to date.
While the total number of COVID-19 cases represents less than one per cent of the world’s population, that’s no reason to be complacent, according to Banerji.
“I think that there is room, unless the proper infection control procedures are in place or unless we get a vaccine, that this virus will infect a significant proportion of the world’s population,” she said.
In late July, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the COVID-19 pandemic is easily the worst global health emergency the agency has ever faced.
In a briefing on Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged that “there is a great deal of pain and suffering” behind the latest statistics but said there are still “green shoots of hope” amid the global outbreaks, no matter what their stage.
Tedros called on world leaders to “step up to take action” and on citizens to “embrace” new public health measures. He pointed to New Zealand, which recently marked 100 days with no local spread of COVID-19, as an example for the world to follow.
The COVID-19 pandemic: a condensed timeline (according to data from Johns Hopkins and the WHO)
Dec. 31, 2019 — Cluster of pneumonia cases reported in Wuhan, China
Jan. 13, 2020 — First COVID-19 case reported outside China (in Thailand)
Mar. 11, 2020 — The WHO officially declares the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic
Apr. 2, 2020 — Worldwide cases surpass one million
Apr. 9, 2020 — Reported deaths linked to COVID-19 surpass 100,000
May 3, 2020 — Deaths linked to COVID-19 surpass 250,000
May 20, 2020 — Cases surpass five million
June 28, 2020 — Cases surpass 10 million; deaths surpass 500,000
July 22, 2020 — Cases surpass 15 million
Aug. 10, 2020 — Cases surpass 20 million; deaths surpass 733,000
— With files from The Associated Press and Reuters
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.