The official death tally reached 5,004,524 million as of late Monday, but that number is certainly an undercount. Some experts suspect the actual death toll may be as high as 10 million.
The milestone comes as cases and deaths are on the decline in the US. This summer’s wave of cases driven by the hypertransmissible delta variant is finally subsiding. But cases are still quite high and now hovering around 73,000 a day.
In a weekly report from October 26, the World Health Organization noted that the US still accounts for the highest number of new cases worldwide. Overall, the US leads the world with the highest case count (nearly 46 million currently) and the highest death tally (over 745,000).
Following the US, the countries with the next-highest overall case counts are (in order): India, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and Russia. Currently, the UK is reporting the second-highest number of new cases worldwide with Russia reporting the third highest. Russia is also experiencing a surge in cases, with a 25 percent increase in daily cases over the last two weeks.
Brazil, India, Mexico, and Russia follow the US in top death counts overall in the pandemic.
Worldwide, cases and deaths are on the uptick, mostly due to a rise in cases in Europe. As of last week, Europe saw an 18 percent increase in cases over a seven-day period and a 14 percent increase in deaths. Southeast Asia, which is seeing a decline in cases, also reported a 13 percent increase in deaths.
The continued high levels of transmission and new rises in cases show that the pandemic is far from over. And with the sustained spread comes the risk of yet more transmissible and/or deadlier new variants.
Experts are already anxiously eyeing a new lineage of the delta variant, called AY.4.2 (aka “delta plus”), that’s gaining a foothold in the UK over other delta cases. So far, delta has been so transmissible that it essentially outspread and elbowed out other variants globally. But in the UK, cases of AY.4.2 seem to be increasing, suggesting that it may have an edge over previous delta variants in transmission. The lineage has three additional mutations over previous delta variants, including two mutations in the spike protein.
Still, the increase in AY.4.2 cases is small. Last month, it was estimated to account for 8.5 percent of cases in the UK. And, although AY.4.2 has turned up in 42 additional countries, almost all of the AY.4.2 cases (93 percent) are in the UK. Scientists need more data to understand if the new lineage is indeed more transmissible and, if so, how it will affect the outlook of the pandemic.
But for now, AY.4.2 offers a stark reminder that, as long as the coronavirus continues to spread, it continues to have more opportunities to evolve—and push the stunning global death toll even higher.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct the proportion of AY.4.2 cases in the UK.