The History of Pandemics
Pan·dem·ic /panˈdemik/ (of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world.
As humans have spread across the world, so have infectious diseases. Even in this modern era, outbreaks are nearly constant, though not every outbreak reaches pandemic level as COVID-19 has.
Today’s visualization outlines some of history’s most deadly pandemics, from the Antonine Plague to the current COVID-19 event.
A Timeline of Historical Pandemics
Disease and illnesses have plagued humanity since the earliest days, our mortal flaw. However, it was not until the marked shift to agrarian communities that the scale and spread of these diseases increased dramatically.
Widespread trade created new opportunities for human and animal interactions that sped up such epidemics. Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, smallpox, and others first appeared during these early years.
The more civilized humans became – with larger cities, more exotic trade routes, and increased contact with different populations of people, animals, and ecosystems – the more likely pandemics would occur.
Here are some of the major pandemics that have occurred over time:
|Name||Time period||Type / Pre-human host||Death toll|
|Antonine Plague||165-180||Believed to be either smallpox or measles||5M|
|Japanese smallpox epidemic||735-737||Variola major virus||1M|
|Plague of Justinian||541-542||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||30-50M|
|Black Death||1347-1351||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||200M|
|New World Smallpox Outbreak||1520 – onwards||Variola major virus||56M|
|Great Plague of London||1665||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||100,000|
|Italian plague||1629-1631||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||1M|
|Cholera Pandemics 1-6||1817-1923||V. cholerae bacteria||1M+|
|Third Plague||1885||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||12M (China and India)|
|Yellow Fever||Late 1800s||Virus / Mosquitoes||100,000-150,000 (U.S.)|
|Russian Flu||1889-1890||Believed to be H2N2 (avian origin)||1M|
|Spanish Flu||1918-1919||H1N1 virus / Pigs||40-50M|
|Asian Flu||1957-1958||H2N2 virus||1.1M|
|Hong Kong Flu||1968-1970||H3N2 virus||1M|
|HIV/AIDS||1981-present||Virus / Chimpanzees||25-35M|
|Swine Flu||2009-2010||H1N1 virus / Pigs||200,000|
|SARS||2002-2003||Coronavirus / Bats, Civets||770|
|Ebola||2014-2016||Ebolavirus / Wild animals||11,000|
|MERS||2015-Present||Coronavirus / Bats, camels||850|
|COVID-19||2019-Present||Coronavirus – Unknown (possibly pangolins)||848K (Johns Hopkins University estimate as of 10:28am PT, Aug 31, 2020)|
Despite the persistence of disease and pandemics throughout history, there’s one consistent trend over time – a gradual reduction in the death rate. Healthcare improvements and understanding the factors that incubate pandemics have been powerful tools in mitigating their impact.
Wrath of the Gods
In many ancient societies, people believed that spirits and gods inflicted disease and destruction upon those that deserved their wrath. This unscientific perception often led to disastrous responses that resulted in the deaths of thousands, if not millions.
In the case of Justinian’s plague, the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea traced the origins of the plague (the Yersinia pestis bacteria) to China and northeast India, via land and sea trade routes to Egypt where it entered the Byzantine Empire through Mediterranean ports.
Despite his apparent knowledge of the role geography and trade played in this spread, Procopius laid blame for the outbreak on the Emperor Justinian, declaring him to be either a devil, or invoking God’s punishment for his evil ways. Some historians found that this event could have dashed Emperor Justinian’s efforts to reunite the Western and Eastern remnants of the Roman Empire, and marked the beginning of the Dark Ages.
Luckily, humanity’s understanding of the causes of disease has improved, and this is resulting in a drastic improvement in the response to modern pandemics, albeit slow and incomplete.
The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century, in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Cautious port authorities required ships arriving in Venice from infected ports to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing — the origin of the word quarantine from the Italian “quaranta giorni”, or 40 days.
One of the first instances of relying on geography and statistical analysis was in mid-19th century London, during a cholera outbreak. In 1854, Dr. John Snow came to the conclusion that cholera was spreading via tainted water and decided to display neighborhood mortality data directly on a map. This method revealed a cluster of cases around a specific pump from which people were drawing their water from.
While the interactions created through trade and urban life play a pivotal role, it is also the virulent nature of particular diseases that indicate the trajectory of a pandemic.
Scientists use a basic measure to track the infectiousness of a disease called the reproduction number — also known as R0 or “R naught.” This number tells us how many susceptible people, on average, each sick person will in turn infect.
Measles tops the list, being the most contagious with a R0 range of 12-18. This means a single person can infect, on average, 12 to 18 people in an unvaccinated population.
While measles may be the most virulent, vaccination efforts and herd immunity can curb its spread. The more people are immune to a disease, the less likely it is to proliferate, making vaccinations critical to prevent the resurgence of known and treatable diseases.
It’s hard to calculate and forecast the true impact of COVID-19, as the outbreak is still ongoing and researchers are still learning about this new form of coronavirus.
Urbanization and the Spread of Disease
We arrive at where we began, with rising global connections and interactions as a driving force behind pandemics. From small hunting and gathering tribes to the metropolis, humanity’s reliance on one another has also sparked opportunities for disease to spread.
Urbanization in the developing world is bringing more and more rural residents into denser neighborhoods, while population increases are putting greater pressure on the environment. At the same time, passenger air traffic nearly doubled in the past decade. These macro trends are having a profound impact on the spread of infectious disease.
As organizations and governments around the world ask for citizens to practice social distancing to help reduce the rate of infection, the digital world is allowing people to maintain connections and commerce like never before.
Editor’s Note: The COVID-19 pandemic is in its early stages and it is obviously impossible to predict its future impact. This post and infographic are meant to provide historical context, and we will continue to update it as time goes on to maintain its accuracy.
Update (March 15, 2020): We’ve adjusted the death toll for COVID-19, and will continue to update on a regular basis.
Visualizing Countries by Share of Earth’s Surface
There are 510 million km² of area on the Earth, but less than 30% of this is land. Here’s the share countries make up of the Earth’s surface.
Visualizing Countries by Share of Earth’s Surface
There are over 510 million square kilometers of area on the surface of Earth, but less than 30% of this is covered by land. The rest is water, in the form of vast oceans.
Today’s visualization uses data primarily from the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) to rank the world’s countries by their share of Earth’s surface.
Breakdown of Countries Share of Earth’s Surface
The largest countries by surface area are Russia (3.35%), Canada (1.96%), and China (1.88%).
Together they occupy roughly 7.2% of Earth’s surface. Russia is so big that even if we divided the country between its Asian and European sections, those new regions would still be the largest in their respective continents.
|Country / Dependency||Total in km² (mi²)||Percentage of Earth's Surface|
|United States||9,525,067 (3,677,649)||1.867%|
|D.R. Congo||2,344,858 (905,355)||0.460%|
|Greenland (Denmark)||2,166,086 (836,330)||0.425%|
|Saudi Arabia||2,149,690 (830,000)||0.421%|
|South Africa||1,221,037 (471,445)||0.239%|
|South Sudan||644,329 (248,777)||0.126%|
|Central African Republic||622,984 (240,535)||0.122%|
|Papua New Guinea||462,840 (178,700)||0.091%|
|Republic of the Congo||342,000 (132,000)||0.067%|
|Ivory Coast||322,463 (124,504)||0.063%|
|Burkina Faso||274,222 (105,878)||0.054%|
|New Zealand||270,467 (104,428)||0.053%|
|United Kingdom||242,495 (93,628)||0.048%|
|North Korea||120,540 (46,540)||0.024%|
|South Korea||100,210 (38,690)||0.020%|
|United Arab Emirates||83,600 (32,300)||0.016%|
|Czech Republic||78,865 (30,450)||0.015%|
|Sierra Leone||71,740 (27,700)||0.014%|
|Sri Lanka||65,610 (25,330)||0.013%|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||51,209 (19,772)||0.010%|
|Costa Rica||51,100 (19,700)||0.010%|
|Dominican Republic||48,671 (18,792)||0.010%|
|Solomon Islands||28,896 (11,157)||0.006%|
|Equatorial Guinea||28,051 (10,831)||0.005%|
|North Macedonia||25,713 (9,928)||0.005%|
|El Salvador||21,041 (8,124)||0.004%|
|East Timor||14,919 (5,760)||0.003%|
|The Bahamas||13,943 (5,383)||0.003%|
|The Gambia||11,295 (4,361)||0.002%|
|State of Palestine||6,020 (2,320)||0.001%|
|Trinidad and Tobago||5,130 (1,980)||0.001%|
|Cape Verde||4,033 (1,557)||0.001%|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||964 (372)||0.000%|
|Federated States of Micronesia||702 (271)||0.000%|
|Saint Lucia||616 (238)||0.000%|
|Antigua and Barbuda||442 (171)||0.000%|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||389 (150)||0.000%|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||261 (101)||0.000%|
|Marshall Islands||181 (70)||0.000%|
|San Marino||61 (24)||0.000%|
|Vatican City||0.49 (0.19)||0.000%|
Antarctica, although not a country, covers the second largest amount of land overall at 2.75%. Meanwhile, the other nations that surpass the 1% mark for surface area include the United States (1.87%), Brazil (1.67%), and Australia (1.51%).
The remaining 195 countries and regions below 1%, combined, account for the other half of Earth’s land surface. Among the world’s smallest countries are the island nations of the Caribbean and the South Pacific Ocean. However, the tiniest of the tiny are Vatican City and Monaco, which combine for a total area of just 2.51 km².
The remaining 70% of Earth’s surface is water: 27% territorial waters and 43% international waters or areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction
In the past, nations adhered to the freedom-of-the-seas doctrine, a 17th century principle that limited jurisdiction over the oceans to a narrow area along a nation’s coastline. The rest of the seas did not belong to any nation and were free for countries to travel and exploit.
This situation lasted into the 20th century, but by mid-century there was an effort to extend national claims as competition for offshore resources became increasingly fierce and ocean pollution became an issue.
In 1982, the United Nations adopted the Law of the Sea Convention which extended international law over the extra-territorial waters. The convention established freedom-of-navigation rights and set territorial sea boundaries 12 miles (19 km) offshore with exclusive economic zones up to 200 miles (322 km) offshore, extending a country’s influence over maritime resources.
Does Size Matter?
The size of countries is the outcome of politics, economics, history, and geography. Put simply, borders can change over time.
In 1946, there were 76 independent countries in the world, and today there are 195. There are forces that push together or pull apart landscapes over time. While physical geography plays a role in the identity of nations, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former ruler of UAE, a tiny Gulf nation, put it best:
“A country is not measured by the size of its area on the map. A country is truly measured by its heritage and culture.”
The World’s Top Car Manufacturers by Market Capitalization
The World’s Top Car Manufacturers by Market Cap
View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.
Ever since Apple and other Big Tech companies hit a market capitalization of $1 trillion, many sectors are revving to follow suit—including the automotive industry.
But among those car brands racing to reach this total valuation, some are closer to the finish line than others. This visualization uses data from Yahoo Finance to rank the world’s top car manufacturers by market capitalization.
What could this spell for the future of the automotive industry?
The World’s Top Car Manufacturers
It’s clear one company is pulling far ahead of the pack. In the competition to clinch this coveted title, Tesla is the undoubted favorite so far.
The electric vehicle (EV) and clean energy company first became the world’s most valuable car manufacturer in June 2020, and shows no signs of slowing its trajectory.
|Rank||Company||Market Cap (US$B)||Country|
|#7||General Motors||$71.3||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#12||Hyundai||$46.8||🇰🇷 South Korea|
|#17||Maruti Suzuki||$33.1||🇮🇳 India|
|#18||Li Auto||$29.5||🇨🇳 China|
All data as of January 15, 2021 (9:30AM PST)
Tesla’s competitive advantage comes as a result of its dedicated emphasis on research and development (R&D). In fact, many of its rivals have admitted that Tesla’s electronics far surpass their own—a teardown revealed that its batteries and AI chips are roughly six years ahead of other industry giants such as Toyota and Volkswagen.
The Green Revolution is Underway
The sheer growth of Tesla may spell the inevitability of a green revolution in the industry. Already, many major brands have followed in the company’s tracks, announcing their own ambitious plans to add more EVs to their vehicle line-ups.
Here’s how a selection of car manufacturers are embracing the electric future:
Toyota: Ranked #2
The second-most valuable car manufacturer in the world, Toyota is steadily ramping up its EV output. In 2020, it produced 10,000 EVs and plans to increase this to 30,000 in 2021.
Through this gradual increase, the company hopes to hit an expected target of 500,000 EVs by 2025. Toyota also aims to debut 10 new models internationally to achieve this goal.
Volkswagen: Ranked #3
By 2025, Volkswagen plans to invest $86 billion into digital and EV technologies. Considering the car manufacturer generates the most gross revenue per second of all automakers, it’s no wonder Volkswagen is looking to the future in order to keep such numbers up.
The company is also well-positioned to ride the wave of a potential consumer shift towards EVs in Europe. In response to the region’s strict emissions targets, Volkswagen upped its planned sales proportions for European hybrid and EV sales from 40% to 60% by 2030.
BYD and Nio: Ranked #4-5
China jumped on the electric bandwagon early. Eager to make its mark as a global leader in the emerging technology of lithium ion batteries (an essential component of any EV), the Chinese government handed out billions of dollars in subsidies—fueling the growths of domestic car manufacturers BYD and Nio alike.
BYD gained the interest and attention of its billionaire backer Warren Buffett, while Nio is China’s response to Tesla and an attempt to capture the EV market locally.
General Motors: Ranked #7
Also with a 2025 target year in mind, General Motors is investing $27 billion into electric and fully autonomous vehicles. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too—the company also hopes to launch 30 new fully electric vehicles by the same year.
One particular factor is giving GM confidence: its new EV battery creations. They will be able to extend the range of its new EVs to 400 miles (644km) on a single charge, at a rate that rivals Tesla’s Model S.
Stellantis: Ranked #9
In a long-anticipated move, Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot S.A. finalized their merger into Stellantis N.V. on January 16, 2021.
With the combined forces and funds of a $52 billion deal, the new Dutch-based car manufacturer hopes to rival bigger brands and race even more quickly towards the electric shift.
Honda: Ranked #11
Speaking of fast-paced races, Honda has decided to bow out of future Formula One (F1) World Championships. As these competitions were usually a way for the company to show off its engineering prowess, the move was a surprising one.
However, there’s a noble reason behind this decision. Honda is choosing instead to focus on its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050. To do so, it’ll be shifting its financial resources away from F1 and towards R&D into fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies.
Ford: Ranked #15
Ford knows exactly what its fans want. In that regard, its electrification plans begin with its most popular commercial cars, such as the Mustang Mach-E SUV. This is Ford’s major strategy for attracting new EV buyers, part of a larger $11.5 billion investment agenda into EVs through 2022.
While the car’s specs compare to Tesla’s Model Y, its engineers also drew from the iPhone and Netflix to incorporate an infotainment system and driver profiles to create a truly tech-first specimen.
Speeding into the Horizon
As more and more companies enter the racetrack, EV innovation across the entire industry may power the move to lower overall costs, extend the total range of vehicles, and put any other concerns by potential buyers to rest.
While Tesla is currently in the best position to become the first car manufacturer to reach the $1 trillion milestone, how long will it be for the others to catch up?
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