BANGKOK — The official global death toll from COVID-19 topped 6 million on Monday — underscoring that the pandemic, now entering its third year, is far from over.

The milestone, recorded by Johns Hopkins University, is the latest tragic reminder of the relentless nature of the pandemic, even as people remove masks, travel resumes and businesses reopen around the world.

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The remote Pacific islands, whose isolation sheltered them for more than two years, are grappling with their first outbreaks and deaths, fueled by the highly contagious variant of Omicron.

The future of the pandemic seems clearer as we learn more about infections
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Hong Kong, which is experiencing a spike in deaths, is testing its entire population of 7.5 million people three times this month as it adheres to mainland China's "zero-COVID" strategy.

As death rates remain high in Poland, Hungary, Romania and other Eastern European countries, more than a million refugees have arrived in the region from war-torn Ukraine. war, a country with low vaccination rates and high case and death rates.

And despite its wealth and the availability of vaccines, the United States alone is approaching one million reported deaths.

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Global death rates are still highest among people who have not been vaccinated against the virus, said Tikki Pang, visiting professor at the National University of Singapore School of Medicine and co-chair of the Asia Pacific Immunization Coalition. .

"It's a disease of the unvaccinated - look what's happening in Hong Kong right now, the health system is overwhelmed," said Pang, the former director of research policy and collaboration with the 'World Health Organization. "The vast majority of deaths and severe cases are in the vulnerable, unvaccinated segment of the population."

Kindergarten teacher Karen Drolet works with a masked student at Raices Dual Language Academy, a public school in Central Falls, RI, on February 9, 2022.
David Goldman/AP
It took the world seven months to record its first million deaths from the virus after the pandemic began in early 2020. Four months later another million people were dead and since then 1 million have died every three months until the death toll reached 5 million at the end of October. Now it has reached 6 million - more than the population of Berlin and Brussels combined or the entire state of Maryland.

But despite the enormity of the number, some time ago the world undoubtedly saw its 6 millionth death. Poor record keeping and testing in many parts of the world has led to an undercount of coronavirus deaths, adding to an excess of pandemic-related deaths but not actual COVID-19 infections, such as those who died of preventable causes, but no one could get treatment because the hospitals were full.

Edouard Mathieu, chief data officer of the Our World in Data portal, said if you look at countries' excess mortality figures, almost four times the number of reported deaths is likely to have died from the pandemic.

An analysis of excess deaths by a team from The Economist estimates the death toll from COVID-19 to be between 14 million and 23.5 million.

“Confirmed deaths represent a fraction of the actual number of COVID deaths, largely due to limited testing and difficulties in assigning cause of death,” Mathieu told The Associated Press. "In some, mostly wealthy, countries this proportion is high and the official count can be considered fairly accurate, but in others it is grossly underestimated."

The United States has the highest official death toll in the world, but numbers have fallen over the past month.

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Lonnie Bailey lost his 17-year-old nephew, Carlos Nunez Jr., to COVID-19 last April — the same month Kentucky opened his age group up for vaccinations. The Louisville resident said the family is still in pain, including Carlos' younger brother, who was hospitalized himself and still has persistent symptoms. The aggressive reopening of the country was a moving testimony for them.