- The 1-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic has arrived: The first case was confirmed in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
- Chinese government data suggests the virus was likely circulating by mid-November.
- In the year since, the virus has infected more than 78 million people and killed more than 1.7 million.
- Here is a timeline of the most significant events and milestones of the pandemic.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Find further detail about each of these events below.
November 17, 2019: A person displayed the first detectable case of COVID-19 in China.
The 55-year-old from Hubei province was the first known case of COVID-19 in the world (though the virus hadn’t received that name yet), and one of hundreds identified by Chinese authorities in 2019, according to an investigation by the South China Morning Post.
However, Chinese medical experts didn’t realise they were dealing with a new virus until late December. Many cases were likely backdated after health authorities took samples from suspected cases, according to the investigation.
December 31, 2019: Chinese Health officials informed the World Health Organisation about a cluster of 41 patients with a mysterious pneumonia in Wuhan.
“The cause of the disease is not clear,” The People’s Daily newspaper, a state-owned publication, said at the time, according to Reuters.
Researchers think the coronavirus originated in bats, then may have jumped to an intermediary species that passed it to people.
January 1, 2020: Chinese authorities closed the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, to which many cases in that early cluster had links.
Although the market was initially suspected to be the site where the outbreak first started, research has suggested that it simply boosted transmission via an early superspreader event.
China has since banned the buying, selling, and transportation of wild animals in markets, restaurants, and online marketplaces.
January 7: Chinese authorities identified the virus that caused the illness as a new type of coronavirus.
At that time, the researchers called the virus 2019-nCoV.
Coronaviruses get their name from their appearance under a microscope: They appear to be covered with points that look like a crown (hence, corona). Other viruses in the coronavirus family cause pneumonia, SARS, and some common colds.
January 11: China recorded its first coronavirus death. Chinese researchers also published the virus’ genetic sequence.
The first person to die was a 61-year-old man who was a frequent customer at the Huanan market.
After researchers published the genetic sequence of the coronavirus, at least two companies quickly got to work creating vaccine candidates: Moderna and BioNTech.
January 13: The first coronavirus case outside China was reported in Thailand.
A 61-year-old female tourist in Thailand was diagnosed on January 13. She’d recently spent time in Wuhan. Airports in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea began to screen passengers for fever.
January 20: The US reported its first case: a 35-year-old man in Snohomish County, Washington.
The man left Wuhan and landed at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on January 15. He reported to a clinic with pneumonia symptoms on January 19, then was diagnosed with the coronavirus a day later.
January 23: Chinese authorities placed the 11-million-person city of Wuhan under quarantine, and the rest of the Hubei province followed days later.
The Hubei lockdowns affected an estimated 60 million people, making China’s action the largest quarantine in history at the time.
Still, this lockdown came too late to stop the coronavirus from spreading throughout the province and beyond its borders. Wuhan officials had allowed a district in the city to hold a Lunar New Year gathering of 40,000 families on January 18, according to the Financial Times.
January 30: The WHO declared a public-health emergency of international concern.
Those instances were the Ebola outbreak that started in 2013 in West Africa, another Ebola outbreak that’s been ongoing in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2018, the 2016 Zika epidemic, polio in war zones in 2014, and the swine-flu pandemic in 2009.
January 31: President Donald Trump banned foreign nationals from entering the US if they’d been in China within the prior two weeks.
Several of President Donald Trump’s top advisers – including Anthony Fauci, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and CDC Director Robert Redfield – had urged him to limit travel from China, according to journalist Bob Woodward.
February 2: The first coronavirus death outside of China was recorded in the Philippines.
The 44-year-old man, a Wuhan resident, had travelled to the Philippines on January 21 with a 38-year-old woman.
Hours before announcing the death, Philippines government officials said they would temporarily ban all non-Filipino travellers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau.
February 6: A person in California died from COVID-19, the first known American death.
Santa Clara County officials found via autopsies that three people who died in their homes on February 6, February 17, and March 6 had the coronavirus.
Before those cases were identified, officials thought that a fatality reported in Washington state on February 29 was the earliest US death from the virus.
February 7: Wuhan doctor and whistleblower Li Wenliang died. At the onset of the outbreak, Li warned contacts from medical school about a new virus but was reprimanded by authorities.
Li was forced to sign a letter saying he made “false comments” after he alerted fellow doctors about the worrisome SARS-like disease.
Li caught the coronavirus himself and died a little more than a month later. He left behind a son and pregnant wife. After his death, Chinese social media was filled with outpourings of grief and anger. Many posts featured a hashtag saying “We want freedom of speech.”
February 11: The WHO announced that the disease caused by the new coronavirus would be called COVID-19.
“We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual, or group of people,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that the WHO wanted a name that was “pronounceable and related to the disease.”
February 14: A Chinese tourist who tested positive for the virus died in France, becoming Europe’s first death tied to the outbreak.
The victim, an 80-year-old man from Hubei province who’d travelled to France on holiday, was hospitalized and quarantined on January 25. France had confirmed 11 cases of the virus by then, according to the BBC.
Also at the time, more than 1,600 people had died in Hubei.
February 29-March 19: Nearly all US states declared a state of emergency.
The announcements enabled states to activate emergency response plans and spend money to deploy additional personnel, buy equipment, and prepare stockpiles of supplies.
March 9: Italy placed all 60 million residents under lockdown.
Initially, two regions in the north become hotspots, so Italian officials locked down towns there on February 23. Then on March 9, the government expanded the restriction zone to encompass the entire nation.
March 11: The WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic.
The WHO made the designation based on the geographic spread of the disease, the severity of illnesses it causes, and its effects on society.
“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” Tedros said.
March 11: President Trump banned travel from 26 European countries.
March 13: Trump declared a national emergency.
Congress also passed a roughly $US2 trillion stimulus package.
March 19: China reported no new locally spread infections for the first time since the pandemic began.
The nation has since kept its case numbers under control, with fewer than 20,000 new cases since May among a population of nearly 1.4 billion people.
China’s strict lockdowns helped it contained COVID-19 so quickly. A March study found that the Wuhan lockdown on January 23 prevented tens of thousands of infections throughout the Hubei province. Without the lockdown, cases in Hubei would have been 65% higher, the study calculated.
March 21: Italy saw the peak of its first wave, with 6,557 new cases of COVID-19 in a day.
The country’s coronavirus caseload had skyrocketed by the end of February. As of late December, more than 2 million people have gotten the coronavirus in Italy.
March 23: New York City became the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the US.
New York state has recorded more than 887,000 cases in total, though many early cases in the spring weren’t counted due to limited testing. More than 36,000 people there have died.
March 26: The US became the world leader in confirmed cases with more than 82,400, surpassing China’s total of 81,780 at the time.
At the time, President Trump claimed the high numbers in the US were due to high levels of testing, even though the country lagged behind other nations in tests per capita, including South Korea and Italy.
March 30: Iran recorded 3,186 new daily cases, the peak of its first wave.
Iran’s schools and universities closed February 23, as did movie theatres and cultural centres. Government officials also released 54,000 prisoners to prevent outbreaks in its prisons. Still, the country became an early epicentre of the pandemic.
March 31: More than one-third of humanity was under some form of lockdown.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi told India’s 1.3 billion residents to stay home on March 24, 2.6 billion people across the world were under lockdown. That’s more people than were alive on the planet during World War II.
April 2: The world passed 1 million COVID-19 cases.
The US had the most infections at the time, with more than 234,000 cases, or about one-quarter of the world’s total. Italy had about 115,000 cases, and Spain had reported 110,000. More than 51,000 people had died worldwide.
April 7: Roughly 95% of all Americans were under some form of lockdown as a result of state, county, or city orders.
Governors in 42 states issued stay-at-home orders by the end of March, affecting a total of 308 million people, or about 95% of the US population.
April 10: The global death toll surpassed 100,000.
The world reached this milestone 101 days after Chinese health authorities first alerted the World Health Organisation about the coronavirus. At the time, the US had the second-highest death toll of any country, with 17,925 deaths. Italy was highest, with 18,849 deaths.
April 14: President Trump ordered a halt on $US400 million in US funding for the World Health Organisation.
In a prepared statement on April 14, Trump blamed the WHO for “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
April 24: Coronavirus cases began to spike in Brazil.
Brazil currently has the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases: more than 6.9 million. More than 181,000 people have died there, the second-highest death toll after the US.
Like President Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has endorsed unproven COVID-19 remedies like hydroxychloroquine and downplayed the pandemic’s overall threat.
May 11: Many countries, including Spain, Iran, Italy, New Zealand, and Thailand, began to ease lockdown restrictions.
New Zealand, in particular, has successfully managed its COVID-19 outbreak. Since an initial spike in April, the country has not reported more than 25 new cases in a single day. Overall, it has only reported 2,128 cases and 25 deaths.
May 16: Coronavirus cases begin to surge in India.
India has reported more than 10.1 million coronavirus cases. More than 146,000 people there have died of COVID-19.
May 21: The number of global COVID-19 cases surpassed 5 million.
The number had passed 4 million on May 9, just 11 days earlier. At the time, nearly a third of the 5 million cases – 1,551,853 – had been reported in the US. More than 93,000 people in the US had died from the virus at the time.
June 28: Global cases surpassed 10 million, and global deaths surpassed 500,000.
About half of those infections were still active and ongoing, while the other half of people had recovered.
July 7: Bolsonaro announced he’d tested positive for COVID-19.
After he announced his diagnosis, Bolsonaro claimed he was getting treated with hydroxychloroquine.
September 2: The WHO issued a strong recommendation for the use of steroids among seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
The organisation based its recommendation on the results of seven clinical trials, which found that critically ill COVID-19 patients given steroids were significantly less likely to die.
“Clearly, now steroids are the standard of care,” Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor in chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association, told The New York Times.
September 22: US deaths from COVID-19 topped 200,000.
In March, disease modelers predicted that COVID-19 would kill as many as 195,000 people in the US by the end of the year. The country reached that number three months earlier than expected.
The disease has killed more Americans than every war US troops have died in since 1945 combined. The US’s current death toll stands at more than 327,000.
September 28: Global deaths surpassed 1 million.
Combined, the US, Brazil, and India combined accounted for nearly half of that total.
The 1 million figure was almost certainly an undercount, given the lack of widespread testing in many nations, as well as suspected concealment of cases and deaths in some countries like Russia and Brazil.
October 2: President Trump announced he’d tested positive for COVID-19.
The president’s diagnosis came about a week after he and more than 150 others gathered in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
After Trump, at least 34 White House staff members, GOP officials, journalists, and other people in the president’s orbit tested positive for COVID-19.
October 23: The US entered its third surge of coronavirus cases, the beginning of its deadliest phase yet.
Daily cases rose more than 40% from the beginning to end of October. Since then, new cases have continued to trend upward. Patients with COVID-19 have overwhelmed intensive-care units in cities like El Paso, Texas, and Salt Lake City, Utah.
On each of six days in December, more than 3,000 people in the US died, eclipsing the daily high of the first wave: 2,752 deaths on May 7.
November 9: Global cases topped 50 million.
By that time, the virus had killed more than 1.25 million people.
December 2: The UK authorised Pfizer and BioNtech’s vaccine.
“This is a day to remember, frankly, in a year to forget,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, according to the Associated Press.
Two other companies, Moderna and Astrazeneca, had by this point also announced promising trial results. But Astrazeneca’s came under scrutiny, since it turned out that researchers had given some participants a half-dose for their first shot by mistake. Among the group that got a half-dose followed by a full dose, the vaccine was found to be 90% effective. Among the rest of the trial participants, who got two full doses, the vaccine showed 60% effectiveness. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg that the company would likely launch a new global trial of the vaccine because of the skewed data.
December 11: The FDA authorised Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine.
The decision followed an endorsement from an independent panel after Pfizer and BioNTech announced its vaccine was 95% effective in a major trial.
The FDA had said it would approve a vaccine that showed at least 50% efficacy, and Fauci had said he hoped for 70%. The vaccine’s development process was also unprecedentedly fast – previously, the fastest vaccine ever developed took more than four years.
December 18: The FDA authorised Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine was more than 94% effective in the Phase 3 trial.