LAURA CASTANHO AND RAFAEL BALAGO
SÃO PAULO, SP (FOLHAPRESS) – One million deaths from coronavirus. The symbolic figure is reached almost nine months after the first official death due to the disease, on January 11, and almost seven after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic, on March 11 .
In this period, in addition to more than 1 million deaths, the health crisis unfolded into an economic crisis, which worsened inequalities that were already very accentuated worldwide, and caused political earthquakes in a polarized scenario, in which science was put in doubt by heads of state and on social networks.
The number –1 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University– is equivalent to 13 crowded Maracanãs or the entire population of Maceió. And everything indicates that it will be just another emblematic milestone to be overcome: not the only million, but the first.
It is estimated that the true number of deaths is higher, since there is the problem of underreporting. According to Alan Lopez, director of a research group at the University of Melbourne, Australia, which studies the impact of disease, the actual number of deaths is around 1.8 million.
He estimates that by the end of the year, the disease will kill 2.8 million people, which would make it the fifth largest global cause of deaths in 2020. On Friday (25), the executive director of the health emergency program of the WHO, Mike Ryan, admitted that it is possible for the official figure to double.
Although the Covid-19 curve has stabilized in many countries, the number of new cases continues to grow faster than ever, averaging just under 300,000 per day, and it is unlikely that a vaccine will be available worldwide within the next nine months.
How did we get here? The pandemic’s history suggests a combination of biological conditions, political neglect and delay to act.
It was thought for some years that the next pandemic would come from China. Epidemiologist Rob Wallace pointed out, in a 2016 book, that the south of the country had the ideal conditions for the spread of new viruses: accelerated deforestation, rapid incorporation of a meat production system based on the confinement of animals, high population density, flu that circulated all year.
Today, it is certain that the virus originated in animals. The main hypothesis is that he stayed with bats and later with pangolins – mammals that resemble the anteater and that would have served as intermediaries for the transmission to humans. There are suspicions that they were sold illegally in Wuhan, where the contagions originated.
On December 31, 2019, China notified WHO of the emergence of 34 cases of what appeared to be an unusual type of pneumonia in the city. Most patients worked in a local wholesale market, closed the next day.
Eight days later, on January 7, the virus found in patients was officially confirmed as a new type of coronavirus. The first death, of a 61-year-old man who had shopped at the market, was released on January 11. The first case outside China was detected four days later, in Thailand, by a woman recently arrived from Wuhan.
Local authorities recommended that the population avoid agglomerations, but were slow to recognize the outbreak as a serious problem. Wuhan City Hall closed means of transport only on January 22, and decreed a “lockdown” the following day – when there were already 540 records of infections and 17 deaths, as well as cases in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the USA .
WHO issued a bulletin to countries that classified the risk of the disease as moderate.
Criticized by the slow response to the virus, the mayor of Wuhan resigned on the 27th. By that time, 5 million of the 11 million residents had already left the city, which contributed to the spread of the virus. On January 30, when China had almost 8,000 cases and 170 deaths, WHO declared the coronavirus to be a global emergency.
The virus entered Europe and other Asian countries, with new cases confirmed in places like Nepal, Australia, France, Vietnam, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the Philippines – where the first death outside China was recorded on February 2. Brazil enacted a national emergency on February 3. On the 5th, Congress passed a law that gave public authorities the right to decree quarantine and take restrictive measures against the virus. Even so, Carnival was held normally. On February 9, the disease in China surpassed the 811 deaths from the SARS epidemic in 2002. When it was named Covid-19 on the 11th, worldwide cases were in the order of 45,000, and deaths , of 1,100. Egypt was the first African country to report a case, on the 14th.
On February 26, Brazil confirmed its first infection. Italy registered three deaths, but it only decreed a “lockdown” on March 8 – when the cases in the world already exceeded 100 thousand. Iran has also recorded a local outbreak. The WHO decreed that it was a pandemic on March 11, when the disease officially reached the six continents of the planet.
It was the beginning of an almost surreal scenario: the world was paralyzed in an unprecedented way to try to slow the spread of the disease. Countries were announcing measures in series, on all continents. Between March 15 and 31, more than 30 metropolises enacted restrictive measures and left the streets empty.
Schools, offices and restaurants were hastily closed. For part of the population, the home office phase has started. For others, there was unemployment, falling income and suffocation. For almost everyone, the fear of becoming infected and of losing a loved one to an invisible threat.
In April, while there was still difficulty obtaining masks and gel alcohol in Brazil, the news showed scenes of tragedy in Italy, Spain and New York, with crowded hospitals, deserted streets where only sirens were heard. ambulances and thousands of deaths per day. It was time for daily live collective interviews on TV, to report the numbers of the disease, and for striking images around the world, such as that of Pope Francis praying to an empty St. Peter’s square.
Leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson have tried to minimize the crisis but have backed off after some time.
The American lives a roller coaster ride, and changes his opinion about the health crisis as the polls and popularity polls come out.
In early April, Boris was admitted to the ICU, but he survived the coronavirus and started to give seriousness to the crisis that his country faces. Another denialist, this time convinced, the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, called Covid-19 a “gripezinha”, met with supporters without respecting social distance and was harshly against the restriction measures to try to stop the spread of the virus .
When asked about the high daily number of deaths due to coronavirus in the country, he replied: “So what? I’m sorry, what do you want me to do? ”.
In May, the situation in Europe started to improve with the arrival of the heat, and countries gradually reopened. Scenes of people back on the streets brought the feeling that the crisis was passing, but also concern about seeing crowds crowding, which facilitates contamination.
While the European continent left the worst behind, the United States and Brazil consolidated themselves as the countries most affected by the disease in the world, a club to which India and Russia would soon join. In the two countries of the American continent, presidential denial and the lack of coordination between the federal and local government helped to achieve this mark.
After so many weeks, the pandemic situation has become routine. The numbers of cases remained high, but failed to attract attention. The daily report on the evolution of the disease now has reduced time on television news, similar to the weather forecast. The interest in news about the pandemic, which generated audience records for press outlets at the beginning of the crisis, gradually diminished. Fear and interest in the unknown gave way, for some, to denial.
Beginning in late May, a wave of anti-racism protests spread across the United States and other cities around the world, sparking crowds despite warnings from authorities. After the acts, however, there were no big waves from Covid in the cities where they were performed.
In June, football, basketball and other sports were resumed, without the presence of fans. Companies, stores, shopping malls and restaurants started to operate with reduced hours and capacity. Face-to-face classes, on the other hand, return in a more timid way, and many cities still decide what to do.
In the second half, the coming of the vaccine became the great desire. The research, carried out in parallel by several countries, became a political issue, an asset to be displayed by the leader of the country that obtains the drug first. USA, China, UK and Russia are in the fray.
As of August, new peaks of cases in Europe have returned to concern. The number of infected people is high, but the number of deaths remains low, due to the advancement of medicine, which has learned to treat Covid-19 better, the amount of tests carried out and that, today, young people are the main affected. Although the coronavirus has already killed even babies, it is the elderly who are most likely to, when infected, progress to more severe cases.
To try to contain a new crisis, countries like Spain and the United Kingdom adopted new restrictive measures in September, but still on a small scale close to what was done at the beginning of the year. Governments try to calibrate decisions, for fear of aborting the recovery of the economy, which is experiencing record recessions in many countries.
The end of the year comes with the question of whether the cold in the northern hemisphere could help Covid-19 to resurface strongly, or if the lessons learned throughout the year will be enough to avoid major problems.
In Brazil, the heat takes more and more people to beaches and bars every weekend, while the numbers of deaths fall very slowly week by week.
We are responsible for at least 141,000 of the 1 million dead. In less than nine months, 1 million died of coronavirus.