Visualized: Key Events in the COVID-19 Timeline
It’s been a long and eventful year since COVID-19 was officially declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020.
The tangible and intangible costs of COVID-19 have been severe. In this visual COVID-19 timeline, we delve into some significant milestones that have occurred around the world.
December 2019-February 2020
Pre-Pandemic COVID-19 Timeline
The origin story actually begins at the turn of the new year, as events began bubbling under the surface in Wuhan, China. The first coronavirus cluster was reported on December 31, 2019, with initial exposures linked to the Huanan Seafood Market.
In the new year, the first coronavirus cases began filtering outside of China, to Thailand and the U.S.—causing the WHO to declare a public health emergency of international concern. As the death toll ticked up to over 200, it was clear that this was no ordinary virus.
All dates in the graphic are based on when events occurred rather than when they were widely reported.
In February 2020, the novel coronavirus was finally named COVID-19. In addition, the Diamond Princess cruise ship was linked to 624 confirmed cases in late February—the highest case cluster outside of China at the time. The ship captured international headlines when it was refused port in a number of countries, casting COVID-19 into the spotlight.
This month also marked a significant turning point. Dr. Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor, had tried to draw global attention to the severity of China’s outbreak before he passed of COVID-19 on February 7, 2020.
If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier I think it would have been a lot better […] There should be more openness and transparency.
—Dr. Li, in a NYT interview a few days before his passing
Italy and Iran then grew significantly as global hotspots of COVID-19. The U.S. reported its first death due to COVID-19—however, it was only discovered in April that there were in fact two prior deaths due to the virus in the country.
On March 11, 2020, WHO made a critical decision. As the virus began to transcend borders and claim thousands of lives, it announced that the COVID-19 outbreak had officially become a deadly global pandemic.
In the year that followed, the virus was relentless in spreading around the world. How have cumulative case counts and death tolls evolved since the beginning?
|Date||Cumulative Cases||Cumulative Deaths|
|February 1, 2020||12,038||259|
|March 1, 2020||88,394||2,996|
|April 1, 2020||958,586||50,535|
|May 1, 2020||3,368,225||242,691|
|June 1, 2020||6,284,173||378,365|
|July 1, 2020||10,675,433||513,479|
|August 1, 2020||17,852,606||681,368|
|September 1, 2020||25,772,515||857,960|
|October 1, 2020||34,326,374||1,024,204|
|November 1, 2020||46,597,718||1,202,376|
|December 1, 2020||64,006,923||1,485,018|
|January 1, 2021||84,054,370||1,835,383|
|February 1, 2021||103,410,000||2,245,069|
|March 1, 2021||114,420,000||2,538,582|
Source: Our World in Data via Johns Hopkins University
Let’s explore key events in the COVID-19 timeline that took place over the course of the past year.
365 Days of the Pandemic
The initial impacts of the pandemic were felt swiftly, and progressively became worse. Within the first three months, the world paid a high human and economic toll.
Whiplash for the World
Following the WHO announcement, numerous sporting events were cancelled, from the NBA and NHL 2019-2020 seasons to the UEFA Euro men’s soccer championship. Even the Tokyo Summer Olympics were postponed for a year.
In late March 2020, the U.S. surpassed China to become the hardest-hit country by COVID-19. In terms of overall case numbers, it remains the global epicenter of the pandemic today, followed by India and Brazil.
The stock market took a severe hit, with a crash rivaling other recessions and significant financial crises. For example, here’s how the Dow Jones Index Average dropped in March alone:
|Event||Date||Dow Jones Industrial Average (% change)|
|Black Monday I||March 9, 2020||-7.79%|
|Black Thursday||March 12, 2020||-9.99%|
|Black Monday II||March 16, 2020||-12.93%|
Stock markets re-entered a bull market in April, but the damage had already been done. The S&P 500, for example, would only return to pre-pandemic levels in August.
To help prop up the economy, the U.S. unveiled the $2 trillion CARES Act, the largest economic stimulus package in history—near 10% of national gross domestic product.
Multiple countries locked down their borders to the rest of the world, from the European Union to India. These travel bans and reduced mobility affected not just airline revenues, but temporarily had a noticeable effect on carbon emissions too.
In addition, two world leaders—UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Russia’s President Mikhail Mishustin—contracted COVID-19.
A Deadly Surge
Numbers kept rising over the next six months, following the shifting geography of COVID-19 into densely populated regions such as Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. In a controversial move, Brazil stopped making its COVID-19 case data public starting June 7, 2020.
Global deaths due to COVID-19 surpassed half a million at the end of June—and jumped to over 1 million by the end of September. Another heartbreaking record was set in mid-October when global cases leapt up by 1 million in just three days.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, and Poland’s President Andrzej Duda were among many more world leaders to test positive for COVID-19.
December 2020-March 2021
Vaccines Bring Hope
At the very end of 2020, some optimism for things going back to normal was restored when Moderna announced the very first vaccine candidate, followed by Pfizer/BioNTech.
However, more alarm was raised as reports of a faster-spreading, more infectious strain of COVID-19 emerged from the UK. Two more variants have also since been discovered:
|Variant||Date identified||Location||Countries with Reported Cases
(Feb 28, 2021)
|B.1.1.7||Sep 2020||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||94|
|B.1.351||Oct 2020||🇿🇦 South Africa||48|
|P.1||Jan 2021||🇧🇷 Brazil*||25|
*Note: P.1 was first detected in Japan but traced back to Brazil
In January 2021, WHO organized an international scientific consultation around these variants. The good news? Existing and emerging vaccines will still potentially provide adequate protection against these variants.
In March 2021, the U.S. Congress approved President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill. Some details of the money breakdown include:
- Up to $1,400-per-person stimulus payments for 90% of households
- $350 billion in state and local aid
- $8.5 billion to rural hospitals and healthcare providers
The rest is expected to go towards safely reopening K-12 schools, assisting hard-hit small businesses, extending food stamp benefits, vaccine R&D and distribution, and more.
An End in Sight for the COVID-19 Timeline?
With the global vaccine rollout now underway, many more key vaccine producers, from AstraZeneca/Oxford University to Johnson & Johnson, have joined in the fight to return life to normal.
Although there have been deep losses due to COVID-19, many hope that we’ll learn from the lessons of this past year, and emerge stronger than ever.
We have come so far, we have suffered so much and we have lost so many. We cannot, we must not squander the progress we have made… Science, solutions and solidarity remain our guide. There are no short-cuts.—Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO
Correction: In a previous version of the graphic, Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, was incorrectly listed as President.
Visualized: The Power of a Sustainable Investment Dollar
Do sustainable investments make a difference? From carbon emissions to board diversity, we break down their impact across three industries.
Visualizing the Power of a Sustainable Investment Dollar
Sustainable investments are booming.
Between January and November 2020 alone, investments in sustainable ETF and mutual funds grew 96%. The UN Principles of Responsible Investment now has over 3,000 signatories representing over $100 trillion in assets. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission established a Climate Risk Unit to analyze climate risk across derivative markets, and as of March 2021, new sustainability disclosures have come into effect in Europe.
But how do we know if sustainable investments have made a difference?
To answer this question, the above infographic from MSCI examines the effect of a sustainable investment dollar by looking at real-world examples.
A Sustainable vs. Unsustainable Dollar
To start, investing legend Benjamin Graham has compared the stock market to a “voting machine.” Just as consumers vote with their purchasing decisions, investors vote with their investment dollars. Especially in the short term, as more dollars flow to sustainable companies, this builds their exposure and access to capital.
In the long term, meanwhile, the market can be compared to a weighing machine. The market recognizes companies with profitable business models that improve their intrinsic value over time. Ultimately, this allows sustainable companies to expand and continue operating.
Given the rising momentum in both green assets and climate targets, here is how investment dollars have influenced and driven change across three industries.
1. Clean Energy vs. Fossil Fuel
Over the last several years, the energy sector has been associated with many of the problems causing climate change. For this reason, many investors are seeking out greener energy alternatives. But how does moving investment dollars from an ESG laggard to an ESG leader support the environment and society?
First, here is a brief explainer of ESG laggards and leaders:
- ESG laggards: companies with the weakest environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance in their sector.
- ESG leaders: companies with the strongest environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance in their sector.
|Industry laggard: U.S. oil & gas company||Industry leader: U.S. utilities company|
|Scale of carbon-intensive business lines equal to 73% of its operation||47% lower CO2 emissions than the industry average|
|This is the equivalent of adding 26 million cars on the road annually||This is the equivalent of removing 9.9 million cars off the road annually|
|1 of 20 oil and gas companies are responsible for contributing to one third of GHG emissions since 1965||Uses 3X as many renewable sources than industry average|
|3X fewer jobs are created vs. energy efficient sector, resulting in lower productivity||This is roughly the same as saving over 9 million pounds of coal burned|
|MSCI ESG Rating: CCC||MSCI ESG Rating: AAA|
Source: MSCI ESG Research
Based on the above example, investors have the ability to finance powerful green initiatives that reduce emissions by almost half, relative to their peers.
2. Safe vs. Unsafe Working Conditions
Weak safety protocols are a key sustainability issue for the industrial sector. Here’s how two companies compare:
|Industry laggard: South African mining company||Industry leader: U.S. mining company|
|11 fatalities in 2019||Zero fatalities in 2019|
|Faced lawsuits from miners surrounding lung diseases contracted from dust exposure in gold mines|
Settlement cost: $350 million
|Board-level oversight monitors health and safety performance|
|Lags behind peers in high incident rates||Leads peers in low incident rates|
|Lags behind peers in setting incident reduction targets||Leads industry in lost time incident rate & total recordable injury rate|
|MSCI ESG Rating: CCC||MSCI ESG Rating: A|
Source: MSCI ESG Research
Despite the risks involved in the sector, investors can choose to support companies that take greater precautions to protect their workers.
3. Building Trust vs. Losing Trust
Over the last several years, the financial sector has faced increased scrutiny over fraudulent activities. Moving investment dollars from an ESG laggard to ESG leader may make a difference:
|Industry laggard: U.S. bank||Industry leader: Dutch bank|
|$3 billion settlement in creating fictitious accounts to meet aggressive sales targets||Sustainable finance portfolio valued at over $20 billion|
|Drop in top-tier bank ratings||13% annual increase in climate finance|
|Board effectiveness questioned||Includes over 60 green loans, mobilizing environmentally friendly projects|
|Resignation of board members||Over 55% of board is female|
|MSCI ESG Rating: CCC||MSCI ESG Rating: A|
Source: MSCI ESG Research
From board diversity to green loans, a sustainable investment dollar supports companies that are actively advancing society and the environment.
Sustainable Investment: The Time to Act
Recently, investor dollars and shareholder activism have been closely linked.
Between 2018 and 2020, large institutional investors filed 217 shareholder proposals on climate change alone, putting increased pressure on companies. Meanwhile, 270 proposals were filed on corporate political activity and 228 on fair labor and equal employment opportunity over the same timeframe. Across all ESG proposals, $2 trillion in assets were pushing for more equitable corporate action.
Through the power of a dollar, investors can send a clear signal to companies: the time for sustainable investing is now.
China’s Economy: 40 Years of Soaring Exports
China’s economy today is completely different than 40 years ago; in 2021 the country makes up the highest share of exports globally.
Animated Chart: 40 Years of Soaring Exports in China
China has the second highest GDP in the world, and it exports 15% of all the world’s goods. But how did this come to be?
A mere 40 years ago, China’s economy was in an entirely different situation, making up less than 1% of global exports and still in the infancy stages of building its economy. The above animated chart from the UNCTAD showcases China’s rise to global trade dominance over time.
Timeline: The Rise to Power
The China of the mid-20th century looks remarkably different when compared to the modern-day nation. Prior to the 1980s, China was going through a period of social upheaval, poverty, and dictatorship under Mao Zedong.
Beginning in the late 1970s, China’s share of global exports stood at less than 1%. The country had few trade hubs and little industry. In 1979, for example, Shenzhen was a city of just around 30,000 inhabitants.
In fact, China (excluding Taiwan* and Hong Kong) did not even show up in the top 10 global exporters until 1997 when it hit a 3.3% share of global exports.
|Year||Share of Global Exports||Rank|
*Editor’s note: The above data comes from the UN, which lists Taiwan as a separate region of China for political reasons.
In the 1980s, several cities and regions, like the Pearl River Delta, were designated as Special Economic Zones. These SEZs had tax incentives that worked to attract foreign investment.
Additionally, in 1989, the Coastal Development Strategy was implemented to use strategic regions along the country’s coast as catalysts for economic development.
The 1990s and Onwards
By the 1990s, the world saw the rise of global value chains and transnational production lines, with China offering a cheap manufacturing hub due to low labor costs.
Rounding out the ‘90s, the Western Development Strategy was implemented in 1999, dubbed the “Open Up the West” program. This program worked to build up infrastructure and education to retain talent in China’s economy, with the goal of attracting further foreign investment.
Finally, China officially joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 which allowed the country to progress full steam ahead.
Made in China
Today China is a trade giant and manufacturing behemoth. Only the U.S. and Germany come close to its share of global exports, sitting at 8.1% and 7.8% respectively.
|Rank||Country||Share of Global Exports (2020)|
|#6||🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||3.1%|
|#7||🇰🇷 South Korea||2.9%|
China’s manufacturing industry has become dominant in producing just about anything from commonplace household items to integral pieces in automotive manufacturing. Some staples of Chinese manufacturing are:
- Precision instruments
- Industrial machinery for computers and smartphones
COVID-19 made China’s integral role in the global economy even more visceral, as major delays in the supply chain occurred when the virus hit the country.
An Economic Superpower
In 2021, China’s trade recovery from the crisis has bested most other countries—in Q1 2021, its exports grew by almost 50% compared to the previous year’s quarter, to around $710 billion.
And the country is not slowing down any time soon. Further plans for economic development are well under way, like Made in China 2025, with the goal of becoming a dominant player in global high-tech manufacturing. Additionally, the famous One Belt, One Road initiative has been funding infrastructure projects globally over the past decade, and the country is also a founding member of the RCEP—which is soon to be the world’s biggest trading bloc.
However, China still faces a series of challenges, such as:
- Population decline
- The onset of labor saving technology
- Trade wars with U.S. and sanctions from other trade partners, like Europe
- The emergence of ASEAN trade powers, like Vietnam
A declining population has many implications like a shrinking workforce and domestic market. Additionally, many companies are setting up shop in less costly manufacturing hubs like Vietnam.
Furthermore, inexpensive innovations in labor-saving technologies, such as robotics and automation, have already begun to undermine the cheap manual labor that has made China the world’s manufacturer.
All of these elements and more could potentially spell a slowing of growth in China’s export dominance. However, while the future for China may not be certain, currently, global trade and production could not function without it.
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