The global death toll due to coronavirus surpassed 2 million on Friday, with the latest data recording 2,000,905 fatalities. The world has also seen over 93.4 million cases of the virus since the outbreak began nearly one year ago, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The grim milestone comes as a team from the World Health Organization begins its investigation into the origin of the virus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China. Thirteen scientists arrived in the city of 11 million located in Hubei province on Thursday after months of negotiating with Beijing’s government.
The team will complete a two-week quarantine in Wuhan but will meet with scientists on the ground via video conference to begin the investigation. Earlier this week U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said China's refusal to be forthcoming or cooperative early on in the pandemic left the world "flying blind" when it came to information about transmission and spread. He also said the timeline prevented the U.S. from developing a data-driven approach to the virus.
"We learned about an outbreak of pneumonia of unknown origin in Wuhan, China, on December 30, not through that country’s official channels, as required under the international health regulations, but through media monitoring that we do, as well as through a notification from Taiwan’s Economic and Cultural office here in the United States," Azar said during a virtual discussion with The Heritage Foundation. "One of the very first ways the U.S. government was notified of a novel virus in mainland China, was by people from Taiwan."
"Even as we were relaying what we knew to the American people, we suspected we could not trust the reports out of China," Azar continued. "Reports from China suggested the virus had likely emerged there by November, and the Chinese government’s explanation for the outbreak did not make sense."
On Friday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world must do a better job of closing "the gap between intent and implementation at the country and individual level" to slow the rate of transmission, Reuters reported. "This is putting immense pressure on hospitals and health workers."
The rise in case numbers comes as experts fret about new strains of coronavirus, which are believed to be more transmissible than the one detected at the start of the outbreak. In the U.K., officials enacted another round of severe lockdowns in an effort to stop the spread, as countries elsewhere looked to travel bans and testing protocols in a bid to prevent the strain from infiltrating.
While the U.K. variant, identified as B.1.1.7, is believed to be more transmissible, it is not believed to be more virulent, and the currently approved vaccines should remain effective. The WHO said that the strain has been detected in dozens of countries outside of the U.K. thus far.
The South African variant, which has been identified in 20 countries, according to WHO, could potentially pose a threat to antibody drugs currently being used, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' leading infectious disease expert, warned earlier this week.
Several more, including two believed to have originated in the U.S., have been detected, although it is not clear what impact they will have on the pandemic.
The U.S. leads the world in deaths, with nearly 390,000 fatalities due to the virus, as states grapple with bungled vaccine rollouts and a limited supply of the coveted shots. At least 22 states have opened distribution up to include people 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions, which has created controversy in some states that saw smokers prioritized over some essential workers.
However, some states have indicated that residents who qualify for the vaccine and are able to make an appointment will not need to show documented proof of age or medical condition, potentially opening up the risk of line jumping and other issues.
Fox News' Kayla Rivas contributed to this report.