World Tops 10 Million Coronavirus Cases, 500,000 Deaths
The world passed two troubling milestones Sunday, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases topped 10 million and the number of deaths surpassed 500,000.
This means the death toll has doubled in less than two months, The New York Times pointed out, from 250,000 in early May. In April, it topped 100,000. The number of confirmed cases, meanwhile, has doubled in 40 days.
"It's a startling number," Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles chief medical officer Richard Riggs told Bloomberg News of the 10 million caseload. "It seems like it's going to continue for quite some time."
How the world reached 10 million coronavirus infections https://t.co/4DenJ9J0Sq— Alfons López Tena (@Alfons López Tena)1593418448.0
The number of confirmed cases is likely well under the real tally, according to The New York Times. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data released last week found that the case load could be as much as ten times higher than reported in some regions, and New York Times investigations revealed an underreporting of the death toll in the U.S. and more than a dozen other countries, since inadequate testing makes it hard to confirm that patients died of COVID-19.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in both confirmed cases and deaths, with more than 2.5 million cases and more than 125,000 fatalities, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Brazil follows with more than 1.3 million confirmed cases and 57,000 deaths. Both U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have been criticized for downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak and undermining accurate scientific information about its treatment and spread. Together, the two countries account for 49 percent of new infections, according to World Health Organization data reported by Bloomberg News.
The U.S. accounts for more than a quarter of all known deaths, according to The New York Times. And infections are increasing in 29 of 50 states, The Guardian reported. The country reported 44,000 new cases by 4 p.m. on Friday, the highest daily increase since the pandemic began. While the U.S. outbreak was initially centered in the Northeast, with New York City emerging as an early epicenter, cases have now shifted to states in the South and West, The New York Times reported. Texas, Arizona and Florida are especially hard-hit and have been forced to pause reopening plans, according to Bloomberg.
Administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence have attributed the surge in U.S. cases to an increase in testing, The New York Times reported, but public health experts say this is not the case. One of the reasons is that the percentage of tests turning up positive results is also on the rise. The positivity rate in Los Angeles rose from 5.8 percent two weeks ago to nine percent Saturday, while the rate in Texas nearly doubled from seven percent two weeks ago to 13 percent Friday.
Worldwide, Brazil and India are both battling significant outbreaks, with each reporting more than 10,000 new cases a day, according to The Guardian. And China, where the outbreak began, has put a province near Beijing under strict lockdown to control an outbreak there.
The current global caseload dashes hopes that the outbreak would weaken in the summer, Bloomberg News pointed out, but health experts warn that things could still worsen in the fall, especially in Northern countries that will also have to contend with flu season.
"We haven't seen the end of Covid-19, and we haven't seen the full scope of it yet, either," professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington Ali Mokdad told Bloomberg News. "This will be as dangerous as the Spanish flu in many ways."
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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