The United States has crossed the staggering milestone of 500,000 COVID-19 deaths just more than a year since the coronavirus pandemic claimed its first known victim in Santa Clara County, California.
The country had recorded more than 28 million COVID-19 cases and 500,054 lives lost as of Monday afternoon, according to tallies Johns Hopkins University and Reuters, although daily cases and hospitalisations have fallen to the lowest level since before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
About 19 per cent of total global coronavirus deaths have occurred in the United States, an outsized figure given that the nation accounts for just four per cent of the world’s population.
“These numbers are stunning,” Dr Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease adviser to President Joe Biden told ABC News’ Good Morning America program. “If you look back historically, we’ve done worse than almost any other country and we’re a highly developed, rich country.”
The toll all but matches the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.
The country’s poor performance reflects the lack of a unified, national response last year, when the administration of former president Donald Trump mostly left states to their own devices in tackling the greatest public health crisis in a century, with the president often in conflict with his own health experts.
Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris are set to commemorate the huge loss of life due to COVID-19 later on Monday during an event at the White House that will include a speech by the president, a moment of silence and a candle lighting ceremony.
US flags on federal property be lowered to half staff for five days and the National Cathedral in Washington will toll its bells 500 times on Monday evening.
In 2020, the virus has taken a full year off the average life expectancy in the United States, the biggest decline since World War II.
Sweeping through the country at the beginning of 2020, the US epidemic had claimed its first 100,000 lives by May.
The toll doubled by September as the virus ebbed and surged during the summer months.
Pandemic-weary Americans grappled with the mountain of loss brought by COVID-19 as health experts warned of yet another coronavirus resurgence in the autumn and winter months.
By December, the death toll had reached 300,000 as the United States entered a deadly post-holiday season that would claim 230,000 lives in the span of less than three months.
Deaths between December and February accounted for 46 per cent of all US COVID-19 fatalities, even as vaccines finally became available and a monumental effort to inoculate Americans got underway.
Despite the grim milestone, the virus appears to have loosened its grip as COVID-19 cases in United States fell for the sixth consecutive week. However, health experts warn that coronavirus variants discovered in Britain, South Africa and Brazil could unleash another wave that threatens to reverse the recent positive trends.
Reuters with AP