LOS ANGELES - The global death toll from the novel coronavirus has surpassed a staggering 4 million people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The sobering milestone comes as some nations begin to ease COVID-19 restrictions and medical experts sound the alarm of rising deadly variants of the disease.
Despite data indicating that the pandemic is improving in the U.S. and other parts of the world, the global death toll this year has already eclipsed 2020’s.
Johns Hopkins reported on June 20 that 1.9 million people lost their lives to COVID-19 this year and 1.8 million people were killed by the virus in 2020.
The continued loss of life is a reminder that not only is the U.S. still in the throes of the ongoing pandemic but, despite vaccinations climbing and hospitalization rates, cases and deaths declining, the disease still remains a very real threat in much of the world.
Despite the improvement in handling the pandemic in many developed countries, medical experts say the goal should be getting as many people vaccinated as possible — not just in the U.S., but around the world.
In an interview with FOX TV Stations on April 6, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases said "if we suppress it in the United States or in the developed world, that’s going to be great."
"Now, this brings up an important question: As long as you have virus replicating anywhere in the world, the chances of developing variants are considerable, which will ultimately come back and could perhaps negatively impact our own response. That’s one of the real prevailing arguments for why we need to make sure the whole world gets vaccinated – not just the people in the developed world," he added.
Coronavirus infections have been on the rise in the 22 countries of the eastern Mediterranean region after two months of steady decline because of increased international travel, low protection and limited vaccination, World Health Organization officials said on July 7.
The region, which includes the Gulf, North African and Asian countries, has registered over 11 million infections and over 220,000 deaths since last year. Iran has been the worst impacted by the pandemic, followed by Iraq.
Ahmed Al-Mandhari, regional director of the WHO, said another spike is likely in the summer months as countries struggle to keep their borders open and their economies active. Despite efforts to contain the virus, a higher weekly average of new cases has been reported across the region compared to the same time last year, he said.
This is because of various factors, including the detection of the Delta variant in 13 out of the 22 countries, and limited distribution of vaccines.
"It is fueling current surges in cases and deaths," he said, urging countries to improve their sequencing capacity and data sharing to enable better understanding of the virus.
Experts say the delta variant spreads more easily because of mutations that make it better at latching onto cells in our bodies. In the United Kingdom, the variant is now responsible for 90% of all new infections, The Associated Press reported on June 24.
The concerning variant has prompted world leaders to enter a vaccination race in hopes of outpacing the spread of more infections.
The urgency coincides with Europe’s summer holidays and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
Surging COVID-19 cases in Tokyo have hit a two-month high that almost guarantees the Japanese government will declare a new state of emergency despite the pandemic-delayed Olympics opening on July 23.
The Olympics are pushing ahead against most medical advice, partially because the postponement of 15 months stalled the IOC's income flow. It gets almost 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights, and estimates suggest it would lose between $3 billion and $4 billion if the Olympics were canceled.
Nationwide, Japan has had about 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths, as of July 7. Only 15% of the Japanese are fully vaccinated, still low compared to 47.4% in the United States and almost 50% in Britain.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.