Table 1

Key events in the COVID-19 pandemic, December 2019–May 2020

MonthKey events
December 2019
  • Clusters of pneumonia of unknown origin in Wuhan, China.

  • Human infection probably began sometime between 9 October and 20 December 2019.69

  • WHO alerted of a novel coronavirus on 31 December 2019.

  • Several cases in Hubei Province, China, and probably already spread to surrounding areas.

  • The virus may have already been spreading in France late December 2019.70

January 2020
  • First case outside China reported in Thailand on 13 January 2020.

  • Cases reported in at least 24 countries, mostly in South and Southeast Asia; also in Europe, the USA, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.71

  • The ‘new disease’ declared a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ on 30 January 2020.

  • Mostly ‘imported cases only’, mainly travellers from China. Soon ‘export’ of virus from other countries started.

  • The Wuhan lockdown,72 which later inspired a series of lockdowns across the world.

February 2020
  • The new disease named COVID-19 on 11 February 2020.

  • Cruise ship Princess Diamond quarantined near Japan, sparking media attention.

  • Epidemic in China peaked with ~80 000 cases and 2900 deaths (80% of cases restricted to the Hubei Province).73

  • Local epidemics of varying attack rates and case fatality rates in 58 countries with imported cases causing ‘local transmission’ reported from 20 countries.

  • South Korea, Italy and Iran emerged as new epicentres.

March 2020
  • Europe engulfed with local epidemics.

  • Over 170 countries were affected worldwide.

  • The epidemic in China seemed to have plateaued.

  • WHO declared the epidemic a pandemic.

  • China partially lifted lockdown while India instituted the world’s biggest complete lockdown affecting ~1.4 billion people.74

April 2020
  • COVID-19 cases crossed 1 million with more than 50 000 deaths.

  • The US emerged as the most affected country with epicentre in New York.

  • Aerosols implicated in the transmission (prompting ‘mass masking’ of the general public).

  • WHO warned that Africa will be the future epicentre of COVID-19.

May 2020
  • South America became the new epicentre of COVID-19.

  • More than 325 000 deaths globally with ~5 million cases in 216 countries/territories/areas.

  • At the time of writing (end of May 2020), no effective medication and/or vaccine exist.

  • The pandemic appeared to have slowed down in countries such as South Korea, Italy, Spain, France and the rest of Europe.

  • In Africa, the number of cases seemed to fall short of forecasts.

  • Tremendous socioeconomic fallouts after an estimated 4.5 billion persons (more than half of humanity) subjected to social distancing norms and/or lockdowns.75