Just three days into 2020, the world was already on the edge as the United States conducted a missile attack in Iraq, killing the major general of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Qaseem Solemiani.
The very next week, the Iranians responded by attacking US bases in Iraq. They also shot down a passenger plane killing 176 people, thinking it was a US spy plane.
While the world was fearing a new war in the Persian Gulf, someone in China was already suffering from the novel coronavirus. A couple of days later, on January 11, this person became the first known victim of Covid-19.
Eleven days later, on 22 January, 11 more deaths were reported, and on 23 January, Wuhan entered a lockdown. Eleven million people were pushed into a forced quarantine.
At this point, there were only 631 registered cases of Covid-19. The number, as it turns out, was based on an incomplete comprehension.
In less than 93 days, the world went from 27 cases to more than 1,000,000, and in 82 days, from a single death to over 50,000. The spread of the virus was clearly exponential and unexpected. While the first 500,000 cases took 17 weeks, the next 500,000 cases were registered in the last week itself.
So, where did it all go wrong?
Of the one million people tested positive for Covid-19, more than 60 per cent come from the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, and China alone. Almost 25 per cent cases of the million are from the US with close to 37 per cent from the city of New York. Italy and Spain, together, make up for 25 per cent of the cases.
Thus, while the virus may have originated from Wuhan, China, and shall go down in popular history as the Chinese virus, the epicentre of the outbreak has now moved West after wrecking Italy and Spain. Already, New York alone has more cases than China.
It all began on the last day of last year when Chinese officials in Wuhan confirmed many cases of pneumonia while failing to determine what caused them. By 7 January, it had been identified as the new coronavirus.
On 20 January, Thailand, Japan and North Korea reported their first Covid-19 cases. Yesterday (April 2), Japan had around 2,500 cases while Thailand 1,875.
Two days before the Wuhan lockdown, the US reported its first Covid-19 case. However, even on 23 January, the World Health Organization (WHO) wasn’t clear about the human-to-human transmission of the virus.
By January 31, China had registered almost 12,000 positive cases. The second highest count was of Thailand with 19 cases. On the same day, the US restricted the entry of all foreign nationals, who had travelled to China in the last 14 days.
By 9 February, more people in China had died of Covid-19 than of the SARS outbreak. The US had also confirmed its first Covid-19 casualty a day before. By this time, China had over 37,000 positive cases, followed by Japan at 90. The US, at this point, only had 12 cases.
On 14 February, China had more than 48,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with almost 1,500 people dead. However, on the same day, the WHO further defended the Chinese over the outbreak, stating that the nation had cooperated on various fronts to curb the outbreak as the US accused China of a lack of transparency on the issue.
On 17 February, the WHO stated that the transmission of the virus was beginning to slow down, citing that much of the spread was still in China. On this day, China had registered more than 70,000 cases, followed by Japan with 513 cases. Spain had three cases and Italy had two.
A week later, however, things took a turn for the worst in Italy.
While on 25 February, in a briefing to the media, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was quoted saying, “for the moment, we’re not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we’re not witnessing large-scale severe disease or deaths”, Italy had become the worst-hit country in Europe with 229 cases. China had close to 78,000. The total number of cases around the world were a little more than 80,000.
On 29 February, while South Korea registered an unprecedented spike in numbers due to the super-spreader who would be later known as ‘Patient 31’. US President Donald Trump expanded the travel restrictions to Iran while warning citizens against travelling to Italy and South Korea. The US, at the end of February, had only 66 cases.
However, the WHO, continuing with its campaign of chaos and confusion, stressed against the application of travel and trade restrictions to countries experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks.
In its statement, the WHO declared that evidence showed that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.
Furthermore, the statement emphasised that the restrictions may interrupt much-needed aid, and a lack of technical support may disrupt businesses and may have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries. This was on 29 February.
By 8 March, Italy had close to 5,900 cases of Covid-19 and a lockdown was ordered in the Lombardy region, thus leading to the quarantine of 16 million people.
On 10 March, the lockdown was extended to the entire country. On the same day, the total number of cases across the world were around 114,000 with China having almost 81,000.
Italy, however, had over 9,000 cases. The US merely had 754 cases then while Spain and Germany had breached the thousand mark for the total number of cases.
The next day, on 11 March, 48 days after the Wuhan lockdown, the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic, urging nations to impose emergency measures to curb the spread. The total cases across the world were around 119,000 by this point.
On the same day, the NBA had to suspend all its games after a player tested positive. Other tournaments, including the IPL, announced the suspension of the leagues in the days that followed.
On Wednesday, 11 March, Trump announced fresh travel restrictions for foreign travellers from Europe, to be implemented from the weekend. The only exceptions were Ireland and the United Kingdom. The US had crossed 1,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 by then.
On 13 March, the WHO stated that Europe had become the new epicenter of the coronavirus as the total cases outside China exceeded 50,000 with Italy alone having more than 15,000 cases.
By 15 March, Italy had almost 18,000 confirmed cases while the US had less than 3,000. On the same day, the US extended the travel ban from Europe to include Ireland and the UK, the only two countries that had been exempted.
Merely two weeks ago from yesterday (April 2), Australia and New Zealand decided to close their borders to all citizens. By this time, the total number of cases had increased to more than 213,000 with Italy having almost 36,000 cases, the most anywhere outside China. The US, only two weeks ago, had around 10,000 cases. This number would increase 24 times in the next 14 days.
On 19 March, Italy overtook China as the country with the most coronavirus-related deaths, registering 3,405 fatalities. China’s total number of deaths stood at 3,242. On the same day, the US issued a ‘do not travel’ advisory to all its citizens and requested all of those who are outside the country to return immediately. However, it was too late, as the numbers later would reveal.
By 21 March, the city of New York alone had more than 10,000 cases, almost half of those in the entire US. Italy breached the 50,000 mark the same day. By 23 March, the number of cases in the US exceeded 35,000. On 24 March, the decision to postpone the Olympics was announced.
By 25 March, the total number of cases around the world had exceeded 400,000. The markets, already volatile for months due to the trade war, entered another uncertain period. On the same day, the WHO declared that the US could become the new epicentre for the outbreak after Italy.
On 26 March, with 82,474 cases, the US surpassed China (with 81,961 cases) on its way to become the next epicenter of the pandemic. The next day, on 27 March, the US had more total number of cases than Italy.
The month of March ended with case count across the world nearing 800,000. However, only third-day into April, the global number has crossed one million with over 50,000 deaths.
As of now, the US, with over 245,000 cases, has entered into a period of lockdown for the entire month of April. However, with sufficient evidence of community transmission in the country, the administration there is preparing for tough weeks ahead as the cases and death count are expected to rise.
While the first million cases took 18 weeks (assuming China and Iran did not forge their data, thus a big ‘if’), the next million cases could be witnessed by next week itself, given the community transmission across the US and Europe.
As per some forecasting models used by the White House in their pressers, the total number of deaths, in the best-case scenario, in the country will be in the range of 100,000 to 200,000. Thus, at the current mortality rate, it would appear that the US is already preparing for more than 5 million cases.
While the strict lockdown measures in India have kept the count low, the country could witness a significant outbreak, rivaling that in the United Kingdom.
Wuhan, where the lockdown will cease from 8 April, would also be anticipating a second wave of the outbreak. As of now, with the WHO’s faltering leadership, each nation is trying its own unique model to curb the exponential increase in the number of cases.
The Covid-19 outbreak is nowhere close to the Black Death event between 1346 and 1353 which left 75-200 million dead, or the Spanish Flu of 1918 which left 20-50 million dead. Yet, the worst is far from over, and it could be million-odd cases more before the curve finally begins to flatten.
In hindsight, it appears the world was worried about the US and Iran for nothing.
Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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