2021 saw over twice as many COVID-19 cases as 2020, December worst month on record

2021 saw 1.8 times more COVID-19 deaths than 2020 

By Kiran Pandey, Rajit Sengupta
Published: Friday 07 January 2022

December 2021 was the worst month on record with the world reporting 25.3 million new cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to an analysis by Down to Earth (DTE). Overall, in 2021, 204.7 million new cases were reported globally. This is roughly two-and-a-half-times the number of cases reported in 2020 (83 million cases). 

The year also saw 1.8 times more COVID-19 deaths in 2021 (3.5 million deaths) over 2020 (1.9 million deaths).

Christopher JL Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said the severity of omicron is still uncertain.   

Monthly world analysis

In other words, the world, on an average, reported 17 million new cases and 0.3 million deaths every month, according to upcoming State of India’s Environment, 2022 published by DTE.

The coronavirus curse seems to be getting worse with every passing year. Just five days into 2022, the world has already seen three of its highest caseload days. On January 4, the world recorded 2.54 million new cases. On January 3, it was 2.52 million. On January 5, when the world recorded the third highest caseload, it was 2.5 million.

In fact, all the 10 days with the highest caseloads fall between December 23, 2021 and January 5, 2022. The only silver lining is that the death toll has not spiked accordingly. While the world has reported 9.56 million new cases in the first five days of 2022, it has reported 28,494 deaths. 

In contrast, the world recorded 80,855 deaths between January 26 and 30, 2021, the highest in five consecutive days. The world saw 2.88 million cases in the five days. 

On January 6, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that most patients with omicron might have mild symptoms, but it should not be taken lightly. 

Maria Van Kerkhove, infectious disease epidemiologist and WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said: 

Yes, oversimplified narratives can be dangerous. While we see lower risk of hospitalisation compared to delta, to suggest that omicron is “just a mild” disease is dangerous. Cases are astounding even with lower risk, we will see hospitals overwhelmed. Please be careful.”

There were 199 countries that reported at least 1,000 new cases or more in 2021 and only five of them (China, Hong Kong, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Tajikistan) reported lower numbers of new cases than in 2020. 


High-income countries reported 46 per cent of the new cases in 2021, followed by upper-middle income countries (30 per cent), lower-middle income countries (24 per cent). Low-income countries saw only 1 per cent of the new cases.

In terms of death, upper-middle income countries had the most burden (43 per cent), followed by high-income countries (31 per cent), lower-middle income (24 per cent) and low income countries (1 per cent).

India worries

In India, the number of confirmed cases in 2021 (24.6 million cases) was 2.4 times more than 2020 (10.2 million cases). In terms of deaths, India saw 0.3 million deaths in 2021, up from 0.15 million in 2020.

As of January 5, 2022,India too continued to witnessed a jump in the number of fresh coronavirus cases, with 90,928 new cases added in 24 hours.

This exponential rise in the number of COVID-19 cases is very likely to be driven by the new omicron variant, according to the Union government. 

The government recently claimed that it is prepared to deal with the surges. Dr Randeep Guleria, chief of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), also said in a media report that the country is “in a much better position at the beginning of the new year” due to high levels of immunity from past exposure.

Rising COVID-19 cases, even though milder, may overwhelm the health systems. especially the out-patient departments (OPDs). 

To be better prepared to deal with “third wave”, it is now important to track hospital admissions rather than reported cases, as many cases will be mild, as suggested by Christopher JL Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). 

In India, as of January 6, 2022, 2,630 cases of omicron have been confirmed across 26 states / Union territories. As many as 995 cases have been discharged / recovered / migrated.

So, it is important to include data on“hospitalisation” in the daily COVID-19 updates. The daily COVID-19 update and the daily Omicron update provided by the Union health ministry should ideally provide separate estimates on “hospitalisation”, instead of merging the number of people discharged, recovered and migrated.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.