US surpasses 900,000 deaths from Covid near end of Omicron surge

'Still we have to be on the alert,' President Joe Biden said

A respiratory therapist treats a Covid-19 patient in the ICU at Rush University Medial Centre in Chicago, Illinois. AFP
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The US has recorded more than 900,000 deaths from Covid-19 two years into the pandemic and a little over a year into its national vaccination programme, a Johns Hopkins University database showed on Friday.

The country is now reporting a slow exit from the largest coronavirus surge the country has seen during the pandemic, driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant first detected in early December.

The nation surpassed 800,000 deaths on December 15 and the following 100,000 deaths since are likely due to Delta variant infections in early winter and Omicron cases as the new variant took hold.

“The Covid crisis has been cut in half — down in half in just three weeks. Still too many cases, still we have to be on the alert,” US President Joe Biden said in remarks about a January jobs report on Friday.

The Biden administration faced criticism for its handling of the Omicron surge, which led them to scramble in setting up a website for US residents to request free at-home rapid tests and to offer free high-quality N95 masks.

At its worst, the US registered a seven-day average of 800,000 daily infections in early January, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, with 1.3 million cases reported on one day alone. The surge also led to a record in nationwide hospital admissions.

The health agency is now counting an average of 343,000 daily cases.

However, the CDC is recording more than 2,300 daily deaths due to Covid-19 — a rate that is still rising.

Unvaccinated people still account for the majority of deaths in the US. About 64 per cent of the population has received two Covid-19 vaccine doses, a level lower than almost all other wealthy countries.

A total of three doses has been found to provide more protection against the Omicron variant and the CDC says 42 per cent of fully vaccinated people have received a booster dose.

The country leads the world in deaths and infections, Johns Hopkins data show, although the official numbers are believed to be an undercount.

Updated: June 20, 2023, 11:13 AM