Global coronavirus death toll passes 1 million

The coronavirus pandemic shows no signs of slowing with rising death toll while economic impact continues to threaten decades of human development growth.

Posted September 29, 2020


New York – The world passed a grim milestone this week as the World Health Organization announced that 1 million people have now died from the coronavirus. More than 33 million people have been infected with the virus since it began in late 2019, and those numbers expect to grow as more countries sound the alarm about second waves.

The pandemic has also taken a dramatic socio-economic toll on the world with governments pumping as much as US$11 trillion into economies to keep them afloat. Stopping the virus while protecting people from the economic devastation remains top priority, says United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner.  

“The climbing death toll is staggering, and we must work together to slow the spread of this virus,” Achim Steiner says. “The world is at a breaking point. In almost every country and territory our socio-economic impact assessments have revealed economies slowing down and contracting. The IMF forecasts a grim end of year with 172 countries expecting negative growth.  Economists predict that GDP levels will not return to pre-Covid19 levels until 2023. Those low to medium development countries will be hit the hardest, not just economically, but also socially. The people living in those countries are on the brink.”

The impact from the coronavirus pandemic has put enormous strain on world economies and for the first time in 30 years has sent human development into reverse. In 2020, as many as 100 million more people could fall into extreme poverty (UNDP), while 270 million people are in danger of acute food insecurity (World Food Programme).

Safeguards could prevent further shocks for people in low development countries who face further harm to education, health, and access to livelihoods. For example, countries can roll out a temporary basic income that would provide a social safety net against poverty while also stopping the spread of the virus.

However, safeguards are not enough, according to Steiner. Moving forward from the crisis requires a complete transformation on how the world views prosperity and progress, putting people and planet at the core of recovery rather than GDP metrics.

It also requires shifting toward tomorrow’s economies that include renewable energies and carbon pricing, and away from outdated economies built on fossil fuel reliance. Depending on GDP metrics to determine debt, credit and access to international markets will exacerbate the crisis.

“Today, it is 64 times cheaper for the richest economies of the world to access international credit than for a developing country on the African continent,” Steiner says.

“When countries are looking to bolster their economic landscape, we hear across continents and communities the call for a future that is green, fair and equitable. We cannot continue on this collision course with nature, and ultimately ourselves,” Steiner says.

Click here for more information on the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and UNDP's COVID-19 work.