Global coronavirus cases have passed a grim new milestone, with more than 20 million infections since the pandemic first began.

The most worrying part is not the numbers themselves, but the speed at which those numbers are accelerating.

According to a Reuters tally, it took almost six months to reach 10 million coronavirus cases after the first infection was reported in Wuhan, China, back in early January. But it took just 43 days to double that tally to 20 million.

WHO'S DRIVING THE INFECTIONS?

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The United States, Brazil and India account for more than half of all known infections.

The 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 United States has now passed five million confirmed infections, and continues to record tens of thousands of new cases each day. Photo / Getty
The United States has now passed five million confirmed infections, and continues to record tens of thousands of new cases each day. Photo / Getty

USA

The United States has now passed five million confirmed infections, and continues to record tens of thousands of new cases each day. Its death toll, at 165,000, is the highest in the world.

And according to analysis from The New York Times, the true scale of the crisis may be even worse than those numbers suggest.

The newspaper has examined data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the government agency responsible for managing America's epidemic, and found that there were actually 200,700 "excess deaths" throughout the US between March 15 and July 25.

The excess deaths statistic measures how many more people than usual have died during a certain time period, based on historical data.

In this case, 200,000 more people died than in a regular year – a figure 54,000 higher than the official coronavirus death toll from the same period.

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Experts have long warned that America's death toll is underestimating the number of victims.

"The number is likely higher. I don't know exactly what per cent higher, but almost certainly it's higher," Dr Anthony Fauci said back in May.

"Because given the situation, particularly in New York City, when they were really strapped with a very serious challenge to their healthcare system, there may have been people who died at home who did have COVID, who were not counted as COVID because they never really got to the hospital."

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro famously dismissed the virus as a 'little flu'. He has since suffered the disease himself. Photo / Getty
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro famously dismissed the virus as a 'little flu'. He has since suffered the disease himself. Photo / Getty

BRAZIL

Brazil is the only other country to surpass 100,000 deaths, but it shows no signs of locking down as cities and restaurants reopen.

Its leader, Jair Bolsonaro, has infamously dismissed the virus as a "little flu", despite 50,000 people dying in three months – followed by another 50,000 in just 50 days.

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The Brazilian President's handling of the pandemic has been criticised by both its Supreme Court and Congress, but he insists on prioritising the economy over health concerns.

In a Facebook video that streamed on Thursday night, Mr Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the disease himself back in July, said: "I regret all the deaths, it's already reaching the number 100,000, but we are going to find a way out of that."

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INDIA

India surpassed two million cases a few days ago, with one million new infections in less than a month.

With more than 50,000 daily cases for the past seven days, it is now the country with the fastest increasing number of infections.

India reported a near-record 62,064 new cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, according to federal health data released on Monday, as total cases surged past 2.2 million.

Compared to the US and Brazil, India has reported a relatively low number of deaths, at fewer than 45,000, although epidemiologists say the peak of its outbreak could be months away.

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Cases in India have been spreading from urban areas to smaller towns and the countryside, where health infrastructure is already overburdened.

India started a phased reopening after a strict lockdown that was imposed on March 25. Temples and other places of worship were allowed to open in June.

Places of worship draw many thousands of people in India and premises are often cramped, making social distancing difficult.

The Lord Venkateswara temple in the town of Tirumala in south India, one of the biggest and most wealthy Hindu shrines in the world, has seen more than 700 cases of the virus among its staff in the past two months.

It took almost six months to reach 10 million global cases - and just 43 days to double that. Photo / Getty
It took almost six months to reach 10 million global cases - and just 43 days to double that. Photo / Getty

WHERE ELSE IS THE VIRUS SURGING?

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 countries with the most infections.

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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. 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.

The vaccine race has more than 150 candidates being developed and tested around the world with 25 in human clinical trials, according to the World Health Organisation.

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.

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In Asia, China continues to squash surges using strict, local lockdowns, bringing its daily numbers down into the low double digits on the mainland.

Meanwhile, the virus continues to surge in Victoria, which recorded a further 331 cases and 19 deaths on Tuesday.

Victorian authorities have warned that there will be many more deaths ahead for the state.

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Michael Kidd noted the drop in cases in Victoria was "promising", but said deaths usually follow around seven to 10 days after someone is first diagnosed.

"We are seeing the first promising signs of a reduction in daily numbers of cases, but it is too early to be certain," Prof Kidd said at a press conference on Monday. "We need to follow the numbers very closely over the coming week.

"While it's heartening to see the declining number of cases being reported each day from Victoria – and we have seen that over the past five days – while we still have hundreds of cases being reported each day, we will continue to have people admitted to hospital and people becoming gravely unwell. And sadly some of those people will die."

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A strict lockdown and night curfew remain in place in Melbourne, aimed at stifling the outbreak.