The US death toll from coronavirus has topped 300,000 on the day the country began dispensing Covid-19 shots in a huge campaign to conquer the outbreak.
The number of deaths is equivalent to repeating a tragedy on the scale of Hurricane Katrina every day for five and a half months, is more than five times the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War, and is equal to a 9/11 attack every day for more than 100 days.
The US crossed the threshold on the day health care workers rolled up their sleeves for Pfizer’s Covid-19 shot, marking the start of the biggest vaccination campaign in American history.
If a second vaccine is authorised soon, as expected, 20 million people could be immunised by the end of the month.
Meanwhile, a sea change in Washington is fast approaching after an election that was, in large part, a referendum on the Trump administration’s handling of the virus.
President-elect Joe Biden has made clear that his first priority will be a comprehensive and disciplined effort to defeat the outbreak.
Globally the virus is blamed for more than 1.6 million deaths.
Experts say it could take well into spring for the shots and other measures to bring cases and deaths under control in the US.
With cold weather driving people inside, where the virus spreads more easily, and many Americans disdainful of masks and other precautions, some public health authorities project 100,000 more could die before the end of January.
“We are heading into probably the worst period possible because of all the things we had in the spring, which is fatigue, political resistance, maybe the loss of all the goodwill we had about people doing their part,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins.
She contrasted the government’s scattershot response with the massive mobilisation undertaken after nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
“To think now we can just absorb in our country 3,000 deaths a day as though it were just business as usual, it just represents a moral failing,” she said.