COVID-19 Pandemic Timeline

Adam Jacobson and Morgan O'Rourke


December 1, 2020

While COVID-19 dominated news cycles and redefined the risk landscape throughout the year, 2020 also saw more than its fair share of non-pandemic risk events. Read more: Year in Risk 2020.

January 23
A strict quarantine was implemented in Wuhan, China, in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that originated in the city of 11 million people. As cases increased around the world, other cities imposed their own restrictions, many shutting all but essential businesses and urging residents to stay home unless absolutely necessary.

February 20
In the worst crash since the Great Depression in 1929, global stock markets fell as a result of rippling trade disruption and businesses shutting down from the pandemic.

March 5
U.K. regional airline Flybe, which operated 40% of domestic flights in the United Kingdom, declared bankruptcy, soon followed by a series of regional airlines going under around the world. The pandemic hit the travel industry especially hard, with the United Nations estimating that the industry could lose $1 trillion and 100 million jobs worldwide.

March 11
The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At the time, there were more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and over 4,000 deaths.

March 24
Japan postponed the 2020 Summer Olympics until 2021. In the months to come, sports leagues around the world struggled with how to safely conduct games, often quarantining players and playing without live crowds.

March 27
President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill. The bill included one-time direct payments to Americans, increased unemployment benefit funding, provided emergency funding for airlines, and created the Paycheck Protection Program, which was intended to provide loans to small businesses struggling to stay afloat.

May 8
The United States announced record unemployment numbers, jumping from 4.4% in March to 14.7%, with 20.5 million jobs lost in April alone. The numbers were the worst since the peak of the Great Depression, when
the unemployment rate reached 24.9%.

July 15
Walmart and Sam’s Club announced that they would require all shoppers to wear face masks. Across the United States, businesses implemented similar mask and social distancing requirements. Dozens of patrons have attacked restaurant and store employees for enforcing mask or distance rules, including the fatal shooting of a Dollar Store security guard in Michigan who asked a customer to wear a mask.

September 28
Global deaths passed one million, which experts said is likely undercounting the actual death toll. If governments lift social distancing and other restrictions, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
estimated that figure could reach 2.5 million by January 2021.

October 2
U.S. President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19. Many other world leaders tested positive during the year as well, including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, Bolivian President Jeanine Añez, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

November 6
Worldwide concerns about a “second wave” surged and countries began a new round of shutdowns to control the spread of the virus. France imposed its second nationwide lockdown as COVID-19 case numbers climbed to more than 31,000 new cases a day. The same week, the United Kingdom began a four-week stay at home order after seeing more than 22,000 new cases per day. Germany also averaged over 17,000 new cases per day and instituted a “partial lockdown” of bars and restaurants.

November 8
The United States surpassed 10 million COVID-19 cases, averaging more than 100,000 new cases per day. U.S. cases made up around one-fifth of the total global case count.

November 15
With COVID-19 case numbers spiking across most of the United States, city and state governments began reinstituting business restrictions, stay-at-home orders, mask mandates and limits on the size of gatherings. A mere week after hitting 10 million cases, the toll topped 11 million.

Adam Jacobson is associate editor of Risk Management. Morgan O’Rourke is editor in chief of Risk Management and director of publications for the Risk & Insurance Management Society, Inc. (RIMS).

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