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Covid deaths may be double what we thought — Coronavirus Fact vs. Fiction

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Coronavirus has killed 6.9 million people, more than double the 3.2 million deaths that have been officially reported worldwide, according to analysis from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington (IHME).

At 574,000 deaths, the United States has reported more Covid-19 causalities than any other country. But the IHME report estimates the US death toll at more than 905,000 people — around 58% higher.

The US is not alone in undercounting fatalities, the IHME said, adding that death tolls have been “significantly underreported in almost every country.” It noted, however, that the underreporting is “unintentional,” explaining that varied testing capacity, overstretched health systems and unrecorded deaths early in the pandemic all contributed to the discrepancy in numbers.

Compared to other countries, underreporting is US is “not bad,” the IHME said, pointing to India and Mexico as two countries where the death toll is estimated to be around three times higher than the official numbers reported, under which both would surpass Brazil in coronavirus deaths.

India is estimated to surpass the US in terms of total Covid-19 deaths by September, accounting for 1.4 million deaths, according to the model. Analysis of Russia predicts an even more drastic discrepancy, with the total estimated number of deaths there more than five times higher than reported, placing the country in fifth place for the highest death toll globally.

For its analysis, IHME compared countries’ excess death rate against expected death rates.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

Q: Guidance on masks is confusing. Who should wear one and when?

A: There are different rules in many different parts of the world, and it’s always good to follow your health authority’s guidelines. The situation is also complicated by the fact that in many countries, some people are vaccinated and others are not. A consensus is growing, however, that you can relax the use of masks if you’re outdoors and not in a crowded place. That’s based on the science of how the coronavirus spreads.

Generally, you should still wear a face covering in indoor public places, and outdoors if you can’t maintain a safe distance from other people. Of course, people who have been fully vaccinated can be even more relaxed.

Dr. Leana Wen explains more in this short video.
Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY

India plows ahead with $1.8B construction plan while hospitals struggle to stay afloat

As India’s second wave continues to claim the lives of more than 3,000 people a day, stretching its health care system beyond breaking point and leaving patients to die outside overwhelmed clinics, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is moving ahead with a $1.8 billion parliament renovation plan.

Modi’s decision to plow ahead with the project — which is expected to employ an estimated 46,700 people and could act as a superspreader event — is the latest in a series of moves that opponents (and a growing section of the public) say underscores the callousness of the government’s Covid-19 response.

Last month, as India was heading to the brink of a humanitarian crisis, Modi and his BJP party members continued to hold large-scale election rallies and allowed the months-long Hindu festival, Kumbh Mela — which draws tens of millions of pilgrims to four rotating sites — to go ahead.

As the country reported 414,188 new Covid-19 cases on Friday — its highest daily record — critics of the PM expressed their frustrations on Twitter, with some drawing comparisons between Modi and Nero, the Roman emperor who, according to legend, fiddled while Rome burned.

Opinion: With a vaccine patent waiver in sight, it’s time to rethink intellectual property rules

The Biden administration on Wednesday backed a plan to waive patents on Covid-19 vaccines. The proposal, first put forward by South Africa and India in October 2020, seeks to temporarily lift certain intellectual property rights that belong to pharmaceutical companies so other nations can develop generic versions of the drugs.

Ironically, the patent system was supposed to improve public welfare, writes Ruth L. Okediji, the Jeremiah Smith Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. In practice, however, the system has enabled the creation of drugs that pharmaceutical companies can sell at high prices, to the patients who can afford them and largely for diseases prevalent in wealthy countries.

Germany stands firm against waiving vaccine patents

German officials say they are opposed to waiving patents for Covid-19 vaccines, throwing a wrench into the plan brought forward by India and South Africa, and supported by the US this week, to facilitate an exchange of vaccine formulas. The hope would be that this move would narrow the vaccination gap between rich and poor countries.

On Thursday, a German government spokesperson said the country opposed the measure, adding that the “protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation” and the Biden administration’s move would have “significant implications for vaccine production.” Germany argues that current Covid-19 manufacturing constraints are due to production capacity and high-quality standards, and not a patent issue.

ON OUR RADAR

  • US companies, universities and states are offering booze, baseball and bonds in a creative attempt to get those holding out on the vaccine to take the shot.
  • Australia is dropping its controversial entry ban on anyone who has been in India over the past 14 days. From May 15, it will now allow citizens and permanent residents who have been there to return.
  • Florida’s new law prohibiting businesses from asking whether employees or customers have been vaccinated may take a toll on its cruise business, with Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO saying it could suspend Florida departures and move its ships elsewhere.
  • A California bar owner who allegedly sold fake Covid-19 vaccine cards at his business has been charged with multiple felonies, including forgery and identity theft.
  • The guidance on mask wearing in the US has been relaxed. But some people want to keep wearing them. Here’s why.

TODAY’S TOP TIP

A lot of people are still feeling hesitant to take up a vaccine when one is offered, and some people are wary of the new mRNA technology used in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots. So how can you help assure friends and family who are on the fence?

The key is in explaining the science. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta points out that mRNA technology is older than some people think. Part of the reason these vaccines came out so quickly is because they were already in development following the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s.

SARS wasn’t as widespread as feared, so researchers paused vaccine development in that area. But it did mean that when Covid-19 emerged, much of the groundwork was already done.

That aside, there is reason to feel optimistic and trust in these vaccines. Clinical trial data and now real-world data — with hundreds of millions of people having now taken these shots — show they are highly effective in preventing severe Covid-19 disease, and the adverse effects are minimal.

“Safety data around these vaccines are some of the most rigorous, really, out of any medial therapeutic that’s out there,” Gupta said. Click here for a video of Gupta fielding more questions on Covid-19.

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