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Known coronavirus cases surpass 100 million worldwide

Cars line up at a COVID-19 drive-thru testing site in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Cars line up at a COVID-19 drive-thru testing site in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.Bing Guan/Bloomberg

The world surpassed a total of 100 million known coronavirus cases on Tuesday, according to a New York Times database, a staggering milestone for a global health crisis that is entering a phase of both hope and deep concern.

Experts say that 100 million most likely underestimates the true number of cases, given the lack of adequate testing and contact tracing in many countries, including the United States. Likewise, the number of deaths — more than 2 million people worldwide, including more than 420,000 in the United States — is probably much higher than officially reported.

Despite lockdowns, social distancing and other measures, the increase in cases has only accelerated in recent months. Global coronavirus cases topped 25 million at the end of August, more than eight months after the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China. By mid-November they had doubled to 50 million. It took less than three months for them to double again.

In one positive sign, the number of daily new cases in the United States, which has the worst outbreak in the world, has been on the decline in recent weeks. U.S. deaths, though, remain high, numbering more than 3,000 deaths per day on average in recent days and more than 420,000 in total. But the U.S. decrease in cases has contributed to a recent decline in the number of daily new cases reported worldwide. Yet more than 500,000 new cases are being reported around the globe each day on average.

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Health experts also worry that new variants of the virus could bring a resurgence in U.S. numbers as they have in Britain, Ireland and South Africa. Those fears have prompted new lockdowns and travel restrictions around the world.

Weariness over the pandemic and the associated economic pain remains palpable, even as experts warn that preventive measures remain necessary in many areas. A United Nations official said Monday that the pandemic had precipitated the greatest global labor crisis since the Great Depression.

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Some of the strongest stirrings of hope came in December, when large-scale rollouts of coronavirus vaccines began in earnest. But the global supply of the new vaccines has thus far been insufficient to meet the demands of the most vulnerable.

“There is not enough vaccine right now to even serve those who are most at risk,” Dr. Michael Ryan, head of the emergencies program at the World Health Organization, said Monday.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the economic fallout from a flawed vaccine distribution plan could prove difficult to contain, much like the virus itself. According to a report released Monday, inequitable vaccine distribution could cost the global economy more than $9 trillion. Wealthy nations, which in some cases have secured enough doses to vaccinate their populations several times over, would absorb about half of those costs, the report found.

Under pressure to speed up the U.S. pace of coronavirus vaccination, President Joe Biden said on Monday that he was now aiming for the nation to administer 1.5 million vaccine doses a day — a goal that is 50% higher than his initial target but one that the nation already appears on track to meet.