The tally is equal to the number of people killed in battle during all of the world’s wars since 1982, according to USA Today, as well as three times the number of people killed in traffic accidents around the world each year.
But public health officials believe the total is an undercount in many countries due to unidentified COVID-19 cases or because cases are covered up, the newspaper reported.
“The numbers may not tell the complete story, and yet they’re still really staggering numbers globally,” Jennifer Nuzzo, DrPH, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The New York Times.
The pace of COVID-19 deaths has increased over time. The initial 1 million deaths were logged in 9 months, the newspaper reported. The death toll then hit 2 million in 3.5 months, followed by 3 million in 3 months and 4 million in 2.5 months. The number of daily deaths has declined in recent weeks.
The U.S. leads the world in reported COVID-19 deaths, with more than 606,000 as of Thursday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Brazil follows closely behind with 528,500 deaths, while India has reported 405,000 deaths.
The global milestone comes as countries race to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 in the face of contagious coronavirus variants. In particular, officials are closely watching the Delta variant, which now makes up 52% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., The New York Times reported.
The Delta variant was also the dominant strain in Germany as of Wednesday, USA Today reported, and has led to a jump in new cases in France and the U.K.
COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to surge in low-income countries in Africa, Asia, and South America, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
“Compounded by fast-moving variants and shocking inequity in vaccination, far too many countries in every region of the world are seeing sharp spikes in cases and hospitalizations,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the director-general of the WHO, said during a news conference.
This week, seven of the 10 countries with the highest death rates relative to their populations were in South America, The New York Times reported. Brazil reported the highest number of new cases and deaths of any country during the past week, and Paraguay had the highest number of deaths per capita.
More than two dozen countries have “epidemic curves that are almost vertical right now,” Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the COVID-19 technical lead for the WHO, said during Wednesday’s news conference.
“The virus is showing us right now that it’s thriving,” she said.