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New confirmed cases of the coronavirus remain high and near their January peak, as the world struggles with unequal vaccine rollout and new threats posed by a variety of fast spreading virus variants.

After more than a year of the pandemic, over 2.8 million people have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, since it first emerged in Wuhan, China, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Even countries with successful vaccine distribution plans are facing new surges. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters in March that she had the “recurring feeling [...] of impending doom.”

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New daily reported cases across the world

At least have been reported since Feb. 29.

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[A detailed look at the virus’s spread through U.S. counties and states]

The United States continues to lead the world in number of vaccine doses given out, though some other nations, including some far smaller, have vaccinated far more of their population. The vaccines were developed and rolled out at record speed, and studies show most have impressive efficiency.

Hundreds of millions of doses have been given out around the world, more than triple the number of confirmed cases of covid-19 since the start of the pandemic — though a large number of cases were likely never recorded, experts caution.

But the vaccine rollout has been persistently unequal, with problems with global supply and pockets of opposition in many nations. Covax, a program to distribute vaccines fairly backed by the World Health Organization, only belatedly began distributing doses to low-income nations.

“I can’t say it’s surprising,” said Thomas J. Bollyky, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “In every previous pandemic where we have our global health crisis, where there has been limited supplies of medical intervention, wealthy nations have hoarded.”

Doses of covid-19 vaccines administered per 100,000 residents

Reported doses administered per day
CountryTotal doses given per 100kPct. of pop. partially vaccinatedPct. of pop. completed vaccination

Even in some high-income nations, vaccination programs have been beleaguered with problems. As new, more transmissible variants took hold in these countries, they have been forced to return to lockdowns and other restrictions to try and re-take control.

“We will lose control if we do not move now,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in March as he announced a new four-week lockdown.

Where the virus is surging

How the U.S. compares to other regions

The United States, which continues to have the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths globally, set a record with more than 300,000 confirmed new daily cases in January. Over 550,000 deaths from covid-19 have been recorded across the country.

Though cases dipped after January, a new wave began only a few months later, prompting President Biden to urge governors to reinstate mask mandates and other virus-related restrictions. “This is deadly serious,” Biden said in March.

Behind the United States, countries including Brazil, India, France and Russia have the largest number of cases.

In Brazil, the rampant spread of the virus has led to more than one variant spreading among the population. The most widespread, known as P.1, was first first identified in the Amazon rainforest but was later found in more than two dozen countries, including the United States.

Some experts have raised concerns that the unmitigated spread in Brazil could lead to the spread of variants against which current vaccines would be less effective. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a skeptic throughout the pandemic, is facing a political crisis at the same time.

“If Brazil is not serious, then it will continue to affect all of the neighborhood there — and beyond,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said in March. “This is not just about Brazil. It’s about the whole Latin America, and even beyond.”

Variants have also caused huge levels of concern in Europe, where the vaccine rollout has suffered numerous setbacks. More than fifty countries across the region have reported concerns about a variant first identified in Britain and known as B.1.1.7, which is more transmissible and can increase the risk of hospitalization, according to the WHO.

"Let me be clear: We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now,” said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a statement in March.

Despite a dramatic decline in cases at the start of the year, India saw a fresh surge this spring that many attributed to the spread of new variants. Though tens of millions of doses have been administered in the country, the virus may be spreading faster than the vaccine in the huge nation.

“You can see that the tidal wave is coming,” Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan who models India’s outbreak, told The Post in March. “It would be foolish to be in denial.”

Some countries have seen success at controlling the virus. In New Zealand, which closed its borders and ordered people to stay home as a first wave hit in the spring, confirmed infections went down to zero for a time. Taiwan and Singapore have kept their outbreaks far smaller than those in other parts of the world, which some experts attribute to their early responses and sophisticated tracking and tracing.

China, the early epicenter of the crisis, has seen much of daily life return to normal. In the early months of the outbreak, it reported more cases than any other country. Its tally of new infections peaked in mid-February of 2020 and approached zero by mid-March, although questions surround the accuracy of its data.

Wuhan, the virus’s initial epicenter, ground to a standstill in January 2020 as the coronavirus spiraled out of control. But after months without a confirmed case of domestic transmission, about 1.4 million children in the city returned to classrooms at the start of September, and crowded events have resumed.

Global hot spots for reported cases per capita

7-day rolling average of daily new reported cases per 100,000 residents

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Note: Only countries with a population of more than 1 million are shown.

Countries that have successfully rolled out vaccines are also seeing important gains. Britain, one of the hardest-hit countries in terms of cases and deaths, has excelled in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines. It was the first country to rollout a fully tested vaccine to the general public in December, when it began distributing the vaccine developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

Data released by Public Health England in March suggested that that vaccinations had saved over 6,000 lives among people over 70, if not more.

Compare countries by new daily reported cases per 100k

At least have been reported since Feb. 29.

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At least have been reported since Feb. 29.

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Case and death counts by country

CountryReported cases per 100kNew cases in last 7 days per 100kChange in daily cases in last 7 days

[What you need to know about coronavirus]

Israel, which has seen several waves of the virus, had raced ahead of other nations and given the first doses of Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine to more than a third of its population by the end of January. Data from data Israel indicated that the Pfizer vaccine was around 94 percent effective at stopping asymptomatic infection.

Early signs from the country suggest that the large scale of vaccinations have had an impact on the spread of the virus.

“We say with caution, the magic has started,” Eran Segal, a data scientist with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, tweeted on Feb. 1. Segal pointed to declines in new cases, hospitalizations and the number of seriously ill.

But global health experts have cautioned that despite the success of vaccines, the virus remains a potent threat and returning to normal life too early could ultimately extend the length of the pandemic and lead to fresh new cases.

"There is a lot of frustration and fatigue out there wanting this pandemic to be over, but with transmission increasing, it’s going in the wrong direction,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s covid-19 technical lead, said at a media briefing on March 31. “This is far from over. We’re not talking about a handful of cases here and there. We are still in the acute phase of the pandemic.”

About this story

Data on deaths and cases comes from The Washington Post’s reporting and the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. World vaccinations data comes from Our World in Data and The Washington Post’s reporting. Country population data is from the World Bank. Taiwan population data is from the Taiwan Statistical Bureau.

Lauren Tierney, Joe Fox, Tim Meko, Chris Alcantara, John Muyskens, Shelly Tan, Adrián Blanco, Armand Emamdjomeh, Youjin Shin, Monica Ulmanu, Harry Stevens, Kevin Schaul, Bonnie Berkowitz, Leslie Shapiro, Siobhán O’Grady, Emily Liu, Anthony Pesce, Susan Tyler, Simon Glenn-Gregg, Erik Reyna, Peter Andringa and Adam Taylor contributed to this report.

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Originally published Jan. 22, 2020.