Covid a year on: Key moments since the first death in Wuhan

The coronavirus pandemic has had political, economic and social consequences. Credit: PA/AP
  • Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Wedaeli Chibelushi

One year ago, health authorities in China reported that a 61-year-old man in Wuhan had died from a “new type of coronavirus”.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said the virus had infected 41 of their residents and left seven of them in a critical state. No one could pinpoint exactly what the virus was - but many feared an outbreak similar to that of SARS in 2008.

The mystery virus turned out to be much worse.

Covid-19, as we now know it, has killed more than 1,884,000 people worldwide and infected more than 86,400,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It's deflated economies, sapped social lives and spurred a critical race to produce vaccines.

From an unknown illness to a deadly pandemic - how did we get here? Here’s a timeline of Covid-19, from January 2020 to January 2021.

  • January

On January 3, China notified WHO of a “viral pneumonia of unknown cause”. 

Authorities reported the 61-year-old’s death on January 11 and on January 13, Thailand became the first country outside of China to record a coronavirus case.

While numbers in China crept up, infections were detected throughout Asia (e.g. in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam). In a bid to stop Covid-19 spreading among its people, China locked down some of its cities on January 23.

The day after, France and the US became the first countries outside Asia to report Covid-19 cases. The virus began started emerging in countries across the world - and on January 31, two cases were confirmed in the UK.

  • February

On February 6, China reported that a baby tested positive for coronavirus just 36 hours after birth, leading to concerns that pregnant women could transmit the virus in the womb, 11 months later it’s still not known whether this is possible.

The virus got its official name on February 11 - WHO named it COVID-19 after the year when the earliest signs of symptoms were detected.

On February 14, a case in Egypt became Africa’s first, while South America’s first known instance of the virus was found in Brazil on February 26.

In yet another first, a dog in Hong Kong tested positive on February 27. It’s now thought animals are unlikely to catch/transmit the virus.

By the end of the month, there were 86,000 cases and 2,900 deaths from Covid-19.

  • March

Italy became the first country to declare a nationwide lockdown on March 9. Its death toll would surpass China's ten days later.

Further west, the economic impact of coronavirus had become apparent. On March 9, the FTSE 100 had its second-largest drop since the financial crash of 2008 and on March 20, America’s Dow Jones index had its worst ending week since 2008.

In an attempt to control widespread outbreaks, more and more countries imposed lockdowns.

The UK began its first one on March 23. In the same week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for the virus.

  • April

April started with global Covid-19 cases passing the one million mark. On April 5, Boris Johnson was taken to intensive care “as a precaution”.

On April 9, he was discharged and began to recover at home. The US death toll passed 19,700 on April 11, eclipsing Italy’s as the worst in the world.

The States also became notorious for conditions in its care homes. Towards the end of April, 11,000 residents had died from the virus. Most facilities hadn’t received enough tests to help control outbreaks.

In England and Wales, the virus had killed 3,000 care home residents by mid-April.

Governments in countries like the US, France and Belgium were accused of forgetting care home residents and workers.

While in the UK, authorities were found to have discharged Covid-19 patients into care homes.

April wasn’t completely bleak - Oxford University began testing their vaccine on April 24.

  • May

On May 7, medical journal The Lancet suggested a link between Covid-19 and an emerging deadly inflammatory syndrome affecting some children. Rare cases of the illness, likened to Kawasaki disease, are still being reported.

May bought more vaccine news - Moderna said its candidate could train the body to fight coronavirus.

China reported no new confirmed infections for the first time on May 23 - roughly five months after the outbreak began there. Meanwhile, Latin America began to report a surge in deaths and infections. 

  • June

A fresh month brought excellent news for New Zealanders - the final person known to have been infected with coronavirus had recovered.

All forms of public events were allowed to take place without limitations again, but borders were closed to practically everyone, except for citizens and residents. 

Meanwhile, the virus reemerged in Beijing - eight weeks after China's last locally transmitted case. Parts of the capital were again placed under lockdown.

Saudi Arabia also announced new restrictions. On June 22, it announced that only people living in the country could make the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The rite usually draws about two million attendees from around the world.

  • July

On July 7, Brazil’s President announced he had tested positive. Jair Bolsonaro had consistently downplayed the pandemic and fiercely criticised efforts by governors and mayors to control the outbreak. 

  • ITV News reporter Neil Connery reports on Mr Bolsonaro testing positive

On the day of his announcement, Brazil had reported over 1.6 million cases - the second-highest total worldwide.

India also revealed grim numbers. After a record one-day spike on July 17, it recorded one million positive tests.

Conversely, North Korea confirmed a case for the first time on July 25. Before this, the country insisted it had no cases at all - a claim questioned by outside experts.

The news came as global Covid-19 cases topped 16 million. On July 28 final-stage testing of the Moderna vaccine began, with some 30,000 Americans taking part.

Towards the end of the month, a second wave of the virus began to sweep across Europe, with cases on the continent rising sharply.

  • August

August 1 saw Mexico's Covid-19 death toll rise to the third-highest worldwide. The virus had claimed 46,600 lives there.

Ten days after, President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had the world's first registered coronavirus vaccine and that one of his daughters had been inoculated.

On August 24, the first case of someone being reinfected was reported in Hong Kong. Reinfections are, to this day, extremely rare. 

  • September

New Zealand reported its first death from coronavirus in over three months on September 4.

The death - New Zealand’s 23rd - followed a small outbreak in Auckland. Towards the other end of the scale, India surpassed Brazil to become the second worst-hit country on September 7. It had topped four million cases.

  • Senior International Correspondent John Irvine reporting on the coronavirus situation in India

Then came a hurdle in the race to find a vaccine. On September 9, trials of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine were paused owing to a reported side effect in a UK patient.

Amid the UK’s second wave of the virus, cases rose by 3,539 in one day - the highest daily figure since May. The country had its largest one-day increase twice more in September. By the end of the month, one million people across the world had died from coronavirus. 

  • October

Donald and Melania Trump tested positive for coronavirus October 2, a day after the President’ close aide Hope Hicks confirmed she had caught the virus. The President was taken to a military hospital and discharged on October 5.

On October 16, a Covid-19 vaccine developed in China was found to be safe and triggered an antibody response.

Amid Europe’s second wave, Italy entered its second lockdown on October 24, while France and Germany announced theirs on October 28.

On the final day of the month, England announced its national lockdown as the country passed one million cases. The measure came just 17 days after a 'three tier' system was introduced to control rising Covid-19 levels.

  • November

On November 9, the US became the first country to hit 10 million cases. The grim milestone came as Pfizer and BioNTech announced their vaccine was 90% effective.

Just two days later, Russia announced that its vaccine, Sputnik V, seemed to be 92% effective. Moderna’s news came on November 15 - the firm said its vaccine may prevent 94.5% of people from getting Covid-19.

On November 23, Pfizer released data based on more cases of the virus in the clinical trial. It said its candidate was 95% effective, rather than 90%. 

  • December

The UK became the first country in the world to approve a Covid-19 vaccine on December 2. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was deemed safe enough to be used on the public and was rolled out from December 8.

  • Health Editor Emily Morgan and Science Editor Tom Clarke give their analysis on the first day of the rollout

On December 14 - the Prime Minister of Eswatini (formally known as Swaziland) died from the virus, making him the first sitting world leader to do so.

The US became the first country to approve the Moderna vaccine on December 19.

On the same day, Boris Johnson announced that a new variant of Covid-19 was behind rapidly climbing cases in London and the South East of England.

Several other nations responded to the news by imposing travel bans on the UK. On December 21, South Africa said a mutant strain was driving up its cases as well.

The pandemic finally reached every continent on Earth, after approximately a year since its first infections. On December 22, 58 people at military bases in Antarctica tested positive for coronavirus.

Over the festive period, Wales, Northern Ireland and a portion of England entered lockdowns.

  • January

With a new year came a new national lockdown for the rest of England and Scotland. On January 4, both announced restrictions will remain in place until at least mid-February.

It came the same day as the first doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine were given in the UK, just days after it was approved by the UK regulator.