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Coronavirus at 5 million: A visual guide to how the pandemic changed the world

Anthony Cuthbertson
·3-min read
Data reveals the effect coronavirus has had on the economy, the environment and even our social habits (Getty)
Data reveals the effect coronavirus has had on the economy, the environment and even our social habits (Getty)

On New Year’s Eve 2019, Chinese health authorities reported dozens of mysterious pneumonia cases in the central city of Wuhan. Several days later, researchers confirmed that a new virus had emerged – though it would be several weeks before its devastating impact began to be realised.

Within a month of the outbreak, the World Health Organisation declared a global health emergency and named the new strain of coronavirus Covid-19.

Less than five months after the first recorded cases, the number of confirmed cases worldwide has now passed 5 million. (The actual figure is thought to be much higher, as limited testing means not all cases are officially diagnosed.)

Lockdowns imposed by governments around the world have managed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but they have also resulted in seismic changes to the global economy, environment, and even our social habits.

As the 5 million milestone is passed, and lockdowns slowly begin to lift, The Independent charts the effect coronavirus has had on the world.​

With more than 1.5 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, the United States accounts for nearly one-third of all infections worldwide.

Even in terms of cases per capita, ​the US is one of the worst affected countries in the world, with one in every 220 people testing positive for coronavirus.

As the world’s largest economy, this has inevitably had a major impact on the global economy.

Economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic

Border closures and lockdowns have forced businesses to temporarily close and world trade to virtually grind to a halt. Projections from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast that economic growth won’t just slow down in 2020 but will actually shrink.

Despite the Covid-19 coronavirus originating in China, the world’s second largest economy will be spared the worst effects of the pandemic.

IMF figures suggest that the Chinese economy will avoid negative growth, unlike the UK, Euro area and the US.

The impact on workers has been one of the most severe, with unemployment rates in the US at their highest since the Great Depression 90 years ago.

As with other global economic crises, the full impact of coronavirus is unlikely to be determined until years after the pandemic has passed.

What effect lockdowns have had on the environment

More than half of the world’s population was under some form of lockdown in late April, leading to the biggest carbon crash on record.

Data from multiple environmental organisations revealed the full extent of massively reduced road and air traffic on the environment, with some estimates suggesting that it has led to around 11,000 fewer deaths from air pollution in Europe alone.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have also dropped significantly due to lockdown measures. Images gathered by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite reveal how ground-level concentrations of NO2 have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Use the slider to compare 2019 and 2020 NO2 emissions.

Impact on travel, socialising and other behaviour

One of the most noticeable influences coronavirus lockdowns have had on our everyday lives has been on the amount we travel, with commercial air traffic dropping to around a quarter of its pre-pandemic levels.

It has also changed the way we move around cities, as demonstrated by the fall in requests for public transport directions on Apple Maps.

These trends are beginning to reverse as lockdowns around the world begin to loosen, but research suggests that the impact on our behaviour patterns may be longer lasting.

A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI at the beginning of May showed that many activities are still considered unacceptable, regardless of whether they are permitted under government rules.