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How Coronavirus Spread in the World

By Rachel Chang April 2, 2020, updated 10:00

The new coronavirus has now infected more than 1 million people across the world, a milestone reached just four months after it first surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan. More than 53,000 have died and 211,000 recovered in what has become the biggest global public health crisis of our time.

When the virus was first discovered, doctors likened it to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, the illness that sickened 8,000 people mostly in Asia in 2003. Highly contagious, and appearing with little or no symptoms in some cases, Covid-19 has rapidly eclipsed all recent outbreaks in scale and size. Fewer than 20 countries in the world appear to be free of infection.

With some virus carriers presenting few outward signs of illness, and many countries unable or unwilling to conduct wider testing, the true number of global infections is likely higher -- some say far higher -- than 1 million.

Pedestrians walk along a nearly empty street in New York on April 1.

The U.S. now has the most cases officially recorded globally with more than 245,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, which draws on a combination of data sources -- from governments to the World Health Organization and local media -- to feed its tallies. Next is Italy, with just over 115,000, the JHU data show. Italy has the highest death toll with almost 14,000 virus fatalities, followed by Spain.

Mapping the Coronavirus Outbreak Across the World.

With world travel paralyzed and millions of people under some form of lockdown as a result of government efforts to contain the spread, the health crisis has also become an economic one: The global economy is expected to shrink 2% in the first half of 2020. Business activity has ground to a halt in many sectors, with predictions the U.S. jobless rate could reach 30% in the second quarter.

Wuhan’s first known virus patient begins developing symptoms on Dec. 1, according to a paper published Jan. 24 in The Lancet medical journal. On Dec. 16, doctors at the Central Hospital of Wuhan send samples from another patient with a persistent fever for lab testing. Those results show a SARS-like virus and on Dec. 30 Ai Fen, the head of the hospital’s ER department, posts a picture of a lab report on Chinese social media, which is re-posted and circulated by several other doctors. They’re reprimanded by local police for “spreading rumors.”