Dubai: As the world on Thursday marks 100 days since the first officially reported case of coronavirus in China, the very thread of our existence has radically transformed in the past few months. With travel frozen, shops shuttered and economic activity at a virtual standstill, more than half of humanity is now confined to their homes. As thousands continue to be infected and killed every day at an alarming rate by a virus unheard even four months back, we take a look at how it all started:
Day Zero: December 31, 2019
Amid the dying embers of the second decade of 21st century, a tiny little news alert trickles in at 1.38pm. A Chinese government website announces the detection of a “pneumonia of unknown cause” in the area surrounding the South China seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million people. Outside China, that alert drowns amid a wave of New Year’s Eve cheer and several other outbreaks to be confirmed by the World Health Organisation that month — cases of Ebola in west Africa, measles in the Pacific and dengue fever in Afghanistan. People partied in packed streets and fireworks exploded to welcome 2020 — a new year and a new decade.
January 9, 2020
A 61-year old man dies in a Wuhan hospital, the first known victim, as the mystery disease is identified: Chinese scientists say hundreds of people in Wuhan have contracted a new type of coronavirus. Later reports will reveal that the first case of COVID-19 in Wuhan was in fact on November 17, 2019. Two previous strains of coronavirus — Sars and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) — have already sparked pandemics this century. Will this one be equally lethal?
Thailand reports its first case, a 61-year old Wuhan resident whose infection is detected at Bangkok airport. The Chinese government meanwhile says there is no clear evidence yet of human-to-human transmission. Epidemiologists welcome the news: “If there are no new cases in the next few days, the outbreak is over,” Guan Yi, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong, tells the New York Times.
The euphoria is short-lived. Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese government respiratory expert, announces two new cases of the virus in Guangdong province among patients with no direct contact with Wuhan. “We can say it is certain that it is a human-to-human transmission phenomenon,” he says. And within days, first cases of the virus are announced in Japan, South Korea and the US.
Amid a surge in the number of cases, Wuhan is virtually sealed and China’s lockdown is widened to include 56 million people. Chinese President Xi Jinping warns that the country is facing a “grave situation” as Hubei doctor Liang Wudong becomes the first medical professional to die. Asked about any concerns over the outbreak, US President Donald Trump tells reporters in Davos: “Not at all. And we have it perfectly under control.”
The UAE announces its first four cases of the new coronavirus in a family that had travelled from Wuhan. The mother, father, nine-year-old daughter and grandmother had arrived in the UAE on January 16.
The official case count in China passes 20,000, with 425 dead. A Wuhan resident who developed severe pneumonia dies in Manila, the first person to succumb to the virus outside China. WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the disease’s global spread appears to be “minimal and slow” and there is no need to halt worldwide trade and travel.
A 73-year-old Chinese woman becomes the first patient in the UAE to recover from coronavirus, according to UAE health authorities. Liu Yujia was among the first four cases who tested positive for the virus in the UAE.
A 61-year-old woman in South Korea tests positive for the new coronavirus in South Korea. On the face of it, she’s just the 31st confirmed patient in the country. But she’s the member of a secretive church and has attended two services and a lunch buffet while ill — spreading it to at least 1,160 people. And that’s how South Korea found itself with an exploding scenario of COVID-19 cases, despite rigorous testing and diligent contact tracing.
For the first time since the outbreak, the number of cases outside China outnumber those inside, even as global cases exceed 80,000. Italy and Iran emerge as the new hotspots — with about 50,000 people across northern Italy placed under a sudden-declared lockdown. Iran reports an official death toll of 12 people — but a lawmaker says at least 50 people have died in Qom alone.
The UAE Tour is cancelled after two Italian team members test positive for coronavirus. UAE’s health authorities test everyone at two hotels in Abu Dhabi where the teams are staying.
The UAE Ministry of Education announces that all schools and universities in the country will close for four weeks beginning Sunday, March 8, subject to suitable extension at the end of that period. Two weeks of the closure will be used for e-learning from home while schools, universities and buses are disinfected during that period, the ministry says.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tells a press conference that he was continuing to shake hands amid reports of the virus spreading rapidly in the UK. “I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody,” he says. Italy meanwhile stares at an exponential crisis: more than 230 Italians are dead and caseloads continue to grow by more than 1,200 every day.
As the number of global cases cross 116,000, stock markets around the world collapse the fastest since the 2008 financial crisis and oil prices begins to plunge to dramatic levels. The outlook is bleak: Italy hits a new record of 168 deaths in a single day, prompting the Prime Minister to say the country was facing its “darkest hour”. And Sir Patrick Vallance, England’s chief scientific adviser, tells BBC that allowing the virus to spread would “build up some kind of herd immunity” so that more people become immune to the disease.”
Late at night, Dr Tedros finally declares Covid-19 a pandemic — but most countries have already moved far beyond waiting for the WHO’s late acknowledgement.
“We are at war,” declares French president Emmanuel Macron, as European nations seal off borders and deaths in Italy outnumber those in China. From Spain and France to the US, Australia and India, new cases emerge by the hour. The rapid spread and scale of the virus is nothing that humanity has seen before in the past 100 years, although it’s severity remains way below MERS.
In a late evening address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announces a 21-day lockdown in the world’s biggest democracy. But that decision also triggers one of the largest human migrations across the subcontinent since it was partitioned in 1947, as hundreds of thousands of daily wage workers try to return to their home states from Indian megacities. Modi’s decision comes a day after confirmed cases around the world exceed 370,000 — and places more than 3.5 billion people around the world into some form of quarantine.
Governments and central banks around the world scramble to unveil unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus packages. The G20 says it would inject more than $5 trillion into the global economy to limit income losses and “do whatever it takes” to tackle the pandemic. Meanwhile, New York emerges as the new global epicentre of the outbreak, the wave of infections appear to wane in China. It records the first day with no cases of domestic transmission in Hubei — the province where the disease first appeared.
It’s the 93rd day since the virus was reported in Wuhan, but at that time nobody foresaw this grim milestone: at 2040 GMT, the Johns Hopkins University confirms that the total number of Covid-19 cases has crossed one million. More than 50,000 people are dead globally.
Authorities in Dubai announce that a 24-hour restriction on movements will be in force across the emirate until April 18, as part of the UAE’s national disinfection programme. The Department of Economic Development extends the closure of commercial activities until the same date. The move is part of several initiatives and social distancing measures undertaken by the UAE to contain the spread of the virus, including announcing multibillion dirham economic stimulus packages, work-from-home directives and e-learning initiatives, along with temporarily shutting airports.
Queen Elizabeth II addresses Britons in a historic broadcast, invoking themes of the Second World War, and signing off in a sombre but positive note: “We will meet again”. Hours later, Prime Minister Johnson is admitted to hospital after testing positive for coronavirus. He will later be moved to the intensive care unit, where he continues to be in stable condition.
Meanwhile in the US, government figures show a record 9.6 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits in two weeks — with infections swelling past 250,000 and 6,000 deaths. New York runs out of morgues to keep the dead and resorts to refrigerated trucks as Trump warns of a “very, very painful two weeks” ahead.
It’s Day 99 and it’s time for cautious celebrations in Wuhan — the place where it all began — as China lifts the lockdown on the city. But globally more than 75,000 people are dead and more than 1.3 million have been infected — with several countries in the middle of their peaks or about to face one, the end is not yet in sight and nobody is certain when or how life will return to normal. Amid the gloom, there’s still some cause to cheer: more than 270,000 have recovered from the infection.