WASHINGTON • Global coronavirus cases pushed past 20 million on Monday, with the US, Brazil and India accounting for more than half of all known infections.
The respiratory disease has infected at least four times the average number of people struck down with severe influenza illnesses annually, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The death toll from Covid-19, at more than 740,000, has outpaced the upper range of annual deaths from the flu.
The tally, which is based on government reports, shows the spread of the disease is accelerating.
It took almost six months to reach 10 million cases after the first infection was reported in Wuhan, China, in early January, but just 43 days for the tally to double to 20 million.
Experts believe the official data likely undercounts both infections and deaths, particularly in countries with limited testing capacity.
The United States is responsible for around five million cases, Brazil three million and India two million. Russia and South Africa round out the top five.
The pandemic is accelerating fastest in Latin America, which accounts for almost 28 per cent of the world's cases and more than 30 per cent of deaths.
With the first wave of the virus yet to peak in some countries and a resurgence of cases in others, governments are still divided in their responses to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Some countries are reintroducing strict public health measures, while others continue to relax restrictions.
Health experts expect dilemmas about how to proceed with school, work and social life to last - and restrictions to fluctuate - until a vaccine is available.
There are more than 150 vaccine candidates being developed and tested around the world, with 25 in human clinical trials, according to the WHO.
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday announced that his country had become the first in the world to grant regulatory approval to a Covid-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing.
The WHO and the Russian health authorities are discussing the process for possible WHO pre-qualification for the newly approved vaccine, a WHO spokesman said.
In the US, children began returning to their classrooms last week, even as controversy over school safety swirled.
Britain has added both Spain and Belgium to a list of countries from which returning travellers must quarantine at home for 14 days because of fresh upticks in some European locations.
In Asia, China continues to quash surges using strict, local lockdowns, bringing its daily numbers down into the low double digits on the mainland. Hong Kong yesterday reported the fewest new cases since its latest outbreak began about a month ago.
Australia has introduced a strict lockdown and night curfew in the city of Melbourne, aiming to stifle an outbreak there.
In neighbouring New Zealand, where life had largely returned to normal after 102 days with no new local transmissions, the largest city of Auckland was shut down yesterday after new community cases were discovered.