The world has passed another grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching 100 million confirmed cases, as tracked by government health agencies. The number follows hot on the heels of passing 2 million recognized COVID-19 deaths (almost certainly an underestimate) earlier this month. One optimistic sign, however, is that the number of cases per day has experienced the largest decline since tracking began.
Over the last week, more than 4 million new cases have been identified, equivalent to the entire country of Croatia being infected in seven days. Yet unlikely as it may seem, that is actually one of the more optimistic figures relating to the pandemic. In the first week of the year, the number was well past 5 million. The drop since then represents the largest worldwide fall in new cases on record, in percentage as well as absolute numbers in almost a year. Although individual nations and entire continents have experienced dramatic reductions in new cases at times, these have always coincided with big increases elsewhere.
The reduction has yet to flow through to the death count, which is still running at around 100,000 a week, as high as it has ever been.
Vaccination would only account for a small proportion of the fall, at least directly. There have not been enough vaccines administered to make for that large a reduction in new cases. Israel, which has vaccinated a far higher proportion of its population than any other country (30 percent with at least one dose on January 24), has only just started to experience the benefits in falling new cases. However, it is possible some people have become more willing to follow guidelines on mask-wearing and physical distancing, anticipating they won’t have to do it for long before they can get vaccinated.
Some of the reduction may also be illusionary, reflecting the way countries such as Sweden and Spain delay reporting for a few days.
A quarter of the 100 million cases are, or were, in the USA; the European Union has had almost a fifth of the total. The scale of the variation is staggering. More than 10 percent of Andorra and Gibraltar have tested positive for the virus, while in almost 50 countries the rate is at least 100 times lower. Some of those could be an artifact of drastic under-testing or falsification of data, but nations such as Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, and New Zealand have proven the virus can be beaten where the national will exists.
Back in April, IFLScience reported the ominous news the word had crossed the 1 million COVID cases mark, accompanied by a little over 50,000 deaths. The true numbers at the time would have been much higher as testing was erratic in most places, and some of the countries with the most cases were suppressing reports. Nevertheless, the fact it’s taken less than 10 months for official cases to jump by a factor of 100, and deaths 40-fold, is a reminder of how fast the virus can take hold when control efforts fail.