How COVID-19 spread around the world
WINNIPEG -- For over a year, COVID-19 has dominated headlines and impacted almost every facet of daily life around the world.
The virus’s worldwide impact is still so large one might forget COVID-19's relatively humble origins.
It all started at the tail end of 2019, when more than forty people in Wuhan City, China, came down with a mysterious respiratory illness.
At the time, even experts couldn’t see this was the start of a global pandemic.
“When I first heard about the disease, I thought, ‘Oh, it’s over in Wuhan, China, influenzas pop up there all the time, it’s densely populated, this is going to be a problem for somewhere else,’” said epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa Raywat Deonandan, “I was stupid that way, selfish and stupid, briefly.”
Not long after, when more data was available, Deonandan crunched the numbers and could see just how devastating the virus could be.
“I was in the fetal position when my spouse found me one morning,” he said, telling his wife the reason he was on the floor is because “I know something that many people haven't figured out yet, that this is a many months, probably many years-long ordeal.”
On January 23, 2020, China placed Wuhan, a city of eleven million, under quarantine.
But the virus had already spread.
Cases of the soon-to-be-dubbed COVID-19 virus were already in Thailand, Japan, and the United States.
Not long after the virus would reach Canadian shores.
On January 27, 2020, the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg confirmed Canada’s first case of COVID-19: a man in Toronto travelling back from Wuhan.”
As the virus continued to spread around the world, Italy quickly became one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19.
Cases spiked in Italy by late February 2020, prompting the Italian government to issue a nationwide lockdown, one of the first of many in the western world.
Not long after, Canada recorded its first COVID-19-related death: A B.C. man who died in a nursing home on March 8, 2020.
Days later, the WHO alerted the world to the virus’s global implications.
“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on March 11, 2020.
“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.”
This is around when COVID-19 started encroaching on the everyday life of Canadians. Infections began rising, sports leagues started cancelling seasons and celebrities (notably Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson) came down with the virus.
Lockdown orders quickly came for the U.K., France, Spain and other European nations as states of emergency were declared in provinces across Canada.
By the end of March and into April, the U.S. became the new epicentre of the virus. Confirmed COVID-19 cases soared to over 600,000 in the United States.
New York City was particularly hit hard, where officials struggled to deal with the virus’s death toll.
“You have to put bodies in trucks, in parking lots,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on April 7, 2020.
The United States surpassed Italy as the country with the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths by mid-April 2020, a title the country still holds.
Meanwhile, the virus ravaged personal care homes in Ontario and Quebec, prompting a military response.
“There’s nothing worse than feeling helpless when it comes to protecting a loved one,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford on May 26, 2020. “Please, pray for these residents, please pray for these families.”
The virus then began to take hold in South America, particularly in Brazil, where cases soared to 1.6 million by early July. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, who downplayed the severity of COVID-19, would contract the virus himself.
Case counts south of the border continue to rise, reaching close to 3 million by Independence Day.
But, in Canada, the summer months brought low case counts. Towards the middle of August in Manitoba, the province had a plan to get everything reopened.
“We have to remember that folks need to get their lives back and Manitobans want to work,” said Premier Brian Pallister on August 13, 2020, when announcing the province’s “Reopen MB” campaign. “Manitobans want to work. They don’t want to just sit at home and collect a subsidy cheque.”
But, before the end of August, cases surged in western Manitoba, prompting the province to impose restrictions on the Prairie Mountain Health region.
Ultimately, it was a preview of what would come only a month later to the Winnipeg region, as cases and test positivity rates continued to climb into fall and winter.
By mid-November, when the Winnipeg region had a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 12.8%, double that of Toronto and more than four times higher than New York City, new public health restrictions were imposed across Manitoba.
But, amid the lockdown, a glimmer of hope: vaccines for the virus.
Governments acted quickly to secure doses, with a 90-year-old woman in Britain the first person in the entire world to receive a shot of a clinically approved COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 8, 2020.
Canada has approved multiple vaccines since then. But a third wave of COVID-19 could still be on its way.
“When that third wave is done, we are in the last legs of this,” said Deonandan. “The finish line is in sight but, the question is, is the finish line five miles away or fifty miles away?”
With enough vaccine supply and barring the emergency of any dramatically different COVID-19 variants, Deonandan predicts something all Manitobans should be happy to hear: By the end of May, the era of strict COVID-19 lockdowns will likely be over.