Coronavirus Daily News Brief – Jan. 31: Climate Change Has Killed 4 Million People Since 2000, Former First Minister Sturgeon Testifies at Covid Inquiry

Learning From Our Past Mistakes as We Ready Preparations for the Next Major Pandemic

By Jonathan Spira on 31 January 2024
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Kill Devil Hills, the site of the first controlled, powered airplane flights on December 17, 1903 by the Wright Brothers

Good day. This is Jonathan Spira, director of research at the Center for Long Covid Research, reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 1,421st day of the pandemic.


Learning From Our Past Mistakes as We Ready Preparations for the Next Major Pandemic

A mea culpa made by Dr. Francis Collins, the former director of the National Institutes of Health, who took the rare step of acknowledging mistakes made by public health leaders in the first years of the pandemic, has gone viral and many criticize Collins for having failed to go far enough.

“If you’re a public-health person and you’re trying to make a decision, you have this very narrow view of what the right decision is, and that is something that will save a life,” he said at a conference this past summer for Braver Angels, an organization that aims to bridge political divides. A video surfaced in social media at the end of 2023.

“So you attach infinite value to stopping the disease and saving a life,” Dr. Collins continued. “You attach a zero value to whether this actually totally disrupts people’s lives, ruins the economy, and has many kids kept out of school in a way that they never quite recovered from.”

Dr. Collins explained that what he was describing “is a public-health mindset,” and given that there was no playbook for global pandemics of such magnitude, all public health officials were able to do was to use past experience in lesser situations as well as gut instinct.

There’s little doubt that Collins and other public health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who played a major role in directing public health policy from the very beginning, were in a public-health mindset and were not fully considering the larger consequences of their policies.  But just as public-health officials can be criticized for viewing the pandemic through public-health-colored glasses, critics of Dr. Collins can be similarly criticized for dismissing his remorse.

In the 1980s, Dr. Fauci was a leading researcher and participated in trying to stem the emerging AIDS epidemic. A false claim was asserted by critics – this in the age before social media – that the majority of AIDS patients died from AZT, a medication developed under his leadership.

The claims that azidothymidine, or AZT as it’s more commonly known, killed more people than the virus itself are baseless, Dr. Fauci didn’t lead the team developing AZT, and AZT remains in use today as it has been shown to be effective at keeping HIV in check when used in combination with other medications.

No one plans for an emergency situation such as a pandemic to happen, it just occurs, but each time it does, we do learn from past experiences, including those of the Spanish Flu.

The microscopic killer encircled the entire globe in four months, taking the lives of more than 21 million people. The United States lost 675,000 people to the Spanish Flu in 1918 alone, a figure that is greater than the number of casualties in the First World War, Second World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined.  By comparison, the global death toll as of the start of the fifth year of the coronavirus pandemic is 6.78 million. So maybe we did learn something after all, lest we forget that the World Health Organization recently warned of the possibility of a future pandemic that could be 20 times worse than the current one.

In news we report today, Scotland’s former first minister said that she sometimes wished she hadn’t been responsible for leading the fight against the pandemic, the cumulative death toll from climate change in this century alone will likely cross the 4 million mark in 2024, and  a middle school in North Carolina is weaning pupils off social media by removing mirrors.


A new study shows that thousands of frontline workers, namely those whose jobs would not be able to be performed from home, died but would have survived had the U.S. regulatory system better protected them. The study, U.S. Workers During the Covid-19 Pandemic: Uneven Risks, Inadequate Protections, and Predictable Consequences, was published in thebmj, which is a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal effectively owned by the British Medical Association

“Federal policies on workplace exposure were developed to protect the supply chain of food or other vital products, or to prevent staff shortages at healthcare facilities, rather than to protect frontline workers from virus exposure,” wrote the George Washington University–led study authors. “Some employers, with the support (and encouragement) of elected officials, put production and profits ahead of worker safety and health.”

The report is the first in a series that examines the lessons learned from the first few years of the pandemic and outlines possible steps that might avert deaths in the next pandemic.


In Scotland, former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted that she failed to properly record key discussions about the Covid crisis after being pressed at the UK Covid inquiry over claims that some decisions were too centraliszd and secretive. Sturgeon, who led Scotland’s response to the pandemic, appeared to  push back tears when she confessed that she had found the pressure of the crisis “incredibly stressful”, and at times, had wished she had not been in charge.

“I was the first minister when the pandemic struck,” she said. “There’s a large part of me wishes that I hadn’t been but I was and I wanted to be the best first minister I could be during that period.”


The cumulative death toll from climate change since the year 2000 will pass the 4 million mark in the current year, this according to the McMichael standard, a researcher wrote in a commentary in the journal nature medicine.

At the start of the current century, Australian epidemiologist Anthony McMichael developed a method of calculating how many people’s deaths were attributable to climate change by looking at how many people had died from diarrheal disease, malnutrition, malaria, cardiovascular, and flooding, worldwide, in the year 2000. Using computer modeling, they were able to parse out the percentage of deaths that were then attributable to climate change and, for that year, the figure was 166,000.

The four-million person death toll is “more than every other non-COVID public health emergency the World Health Organization has ever declared combined,” said the author of the commentary, Colin Carlson, a global change biologist and assistant professor at Georgetown University.

“If all else fails, remove the mirrors” must have been the watchword at a school in North Carolina. While New York City designated social media to be a public health hazard earlier in the month but so far has not taken significant steps in addressing the problem, administrators at the Southern Alamance Middle School in Graham, North Carolina had recognized the issue, observing that some students would leave the classroom to go to the WC as many as nine times per day, largely to make videos for TikTok, Les Atkins, a school district spokesman, told WFMY-TV news.

Instead of following what so many other schools are doing, which is to ban mobile phones, the school earlier in January removed all of the mirrors in the school’s WCs and visits to the toilet plummeted.


Now here are the daily statistics for Wednesday, January 31.

As of  Wednesday morning, the world has recorded 702.54 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.02 million in the last 24 hours, and 6.98 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 673.49 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.03 million.

The reader should note that infrequent reporting from some sources may appear as spikes in new case figures or death tolls as well as the occasional downward or upward adjustment as corrections to case figures warrant.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Wednesday at press time is 22,079,209, a decrease of 533 in the past 24 hours. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 22,042,845, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 36,364, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past 16 months.

Since the start of the pandemic, the United States has, as of Wednesday, recorded 110.8 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 1.19 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, 45.03 million, and a reported death toll of 533,447.

The newest data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed that, at the end of July 2022, the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now 823,623, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, behind the United States.  Rosstat last reported that 3,284 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in July 2022, down from 5,023 in June, 7,008 in May and 11,583 in April.

Meanwhile, France is the country with the third highest number of cases, with 40.14 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with 38.81 million total cases.

Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 708,195, has recorded 38.3 million cases, placing it in the number five slot.

The other five countries with total case figures over the 20 million mark are South Korea, with 34.57 million cases, as number six; Japan, with 33.8 million cases placing it in the number seven slot; and Italy, with 26.71 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with 24.89 million, and Russia, with 23.88 million, as nine and ten respectively.


In the United States, in the week ending January 20, 2022, the test positivity rate was, based on data released on January 26, 2024 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was 10.8%, and the trend in test positivity is -1.2% in the most recent week. Meanwhile, the percentage of emergency department visits that were diagnosed as SARS-CoV-2 was 2.1%, and the trend in emergency department visits is -16.3%.

The number of people admitted to hospital in the United States due to SARS-CoV-2 in the same 7-day period was 26,607, a figure that is down 14% over the past 7-day period. Meanwhile, the percentage of deaths due to SARS-CoV-2 was 3.7%, a figure that is up -7.5% for the period.


Some 70.6% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Wednesday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 13.53 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 21,800 doses are now administered each day.

Meanwhile, only 32.9% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain at or below 10%.

In addition, with the beginning of vaccinations in North Korea in late September, Eritrea remains the only country in the world that has not administered vaccines in any significant number.

Anna Breuer contributed reporting to this story.

The Coronavirus Daily News Brief is a publication of the Center for Long Covid Research.

If you have Long Covid and need to talk to someone, call the Long Covid Patient Peer Counseling Phone Line, or HOPELINE.  The HOPELINE is our free, confidential support and information service.

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