An outbreak of a brand new disease that was first identified in November 2019—named by the World Health Organization as "coronavirus disease 2019" or "COVID-19" for short (often referred to as a "coronavirus outbreak"note due to it first being publicized before the disease's identification as a new strain of SARS, named "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" or "SARS-CoV-2")—was recognized as a pandemic by the WHO on March 11, 2020.
First reported in a fish market in Wuhan, China, it has to date infected over 17.8 million people, with over 679,000 deaths. The outbreak was said to be caused by yewei (a form of exotic game meat similar to bushmeat) being sold at a local fish and animal market, due to inadequate sanitation standards (similar to the poor livestock conditions and general sanitary standards that caused the 1993 E. Coli outbreak in The United States; paralleling that outbreak, the Chinese government has enacted stricter regulations on yewei in response). The disease has spread far and wide since it was first noticed and swept every continent in the world except for Antarctica (which apart from a small handful of research outposts is uninhabited by humans). Major centers of outbreak outside China include the United States, Europe (especially Russia; the United Kingdom; Spain; France; Sweden, Italy, which is a popular destination for Chinese tourists), Iran, India, and Brazil. The pandemic led to increased public concerns about personal health and food hygiene, with social distancing being enforced. Business, education, and non-essential trade in many countries were suspended; it was estimated that more than 1.7 billion students globally were affected by school suspension, as classes shifted online to varying degrees of success. The aviation and tourism industries were hit especially hard, as many countries enacted travel bans and lockdowns. By the end of March 2020 it had spread to the rest of the economy, with the U.S. losing an unprecedented 10 million jobs in the last two weeks of March.note By April 16th, the US had lost over 22 million jobs in just a month. For comparison, it took 3 years for The Great Depression to lose 25 million jobs.note By the end of May 2020, the job losses were exceeding 40 million. Many economists believe that the global economy has spiraled into a deep recession that has been called the "Great Lockdown" and the "Great Shutdown", with the economic loss having already become far greater than the Great Recession of the late 2000s. The United States ended the first half of 2020 with the most infections and deaths in the world, with over 4.7 million people infected and 157,000 deathsnote (with the most infections and deaths coming from the Northeast from March to May 2020; and later in the southern States and California during the summer) as of July 2020.note
Notably, lockdown measures have caused widespread protests and unrest in the United States, with even President Donald Trump's administration demanding various state governors to end the lockdown measures and stay-at-home orders and "reopen the economy". Wearing a surgical mask to both prevent the spread of the virus and protect oneself from it has become a particular flashpoint issue, in part due to Trump's vocal distaste for it; a security guard was actually murdered for insisting a customer wear a mask. It's also been pointed out that many "essential" workers who are not subject to stay-at-home measures (medical workers, grocery store clerks, etc.) are not being properly protected and/or compensated for their continued work as is, and are only put more at risk by relaxations of safety measures, further highlighting the continued class and racial disparities at work in the U.S. and the failures of the government to provide for the common good in a crisis. Many states started easing up on stay-at-home orders by or on Memorial Day weekend only to see many residents often deliberately not following the social distancing/mask-wearing restrictions that remained, resulting in a dramatic uptick of cases in the Sun Belt and West Coast regions by the end of June, and new shortages of protective equipment for workers at hospitals. June was also dominated by a wave of Black Lives Matter/anti-Police Brutality protests in 2,000 cities around the country and the world in the wake of the African-American George Floyd's death at the hands of white police officers. Many commentators pointed out this event may have been the last straw given the class/racial issues the epidemic had already shone light on and a lack of anything to distract people from them. Even with many protesters wearing masks and attempting to distance themselves from each other note fears are growing that these as well as anything related to the "reopen the economy" movement (i.e. Walt Disney World reopening in July even as infections in Florida were reaching record levels; K-12 schools and colleges being pushed to reopen the following month after attempts at online "distance learning" largely failed, especially for poor families) and the 2020 Presidential campaign and voting could prove to be "super-spreader" events. Tellingly, a second wavenote of COVID-19 emerged in summer— directly contrasting predictions that the virus would be less prevalent as a result of the hotter weather— affecting young adults more heavily than before and leading to the pandemic once again becoming the top point of focus in the news cycle and public discussion, eclipsing the protests (though analysts pin the second wave more on the mass reopenings, particularly in the southern states and California where most of the infections and deaths occur during the second wave, as a result of people participating in them being much less likely than the protesters to adhere to protective practices).
The pandemic has also caused supply shortages across the globe from hand sanitizers, food, toilet paper, hand soaps, surgical masks, protective gear, and even hair dye (primarily due to mass panic buying), thus forcing grocery stores to ration produce and goods. The food shortages are made even worse when farmers are forced to destroy their own crops and produce despite the significantly increased demand for food from grocery stores and food banks.note There was also a surge in gun sales in the United States, and a run on the market in precious metals such as silver and gold due to the fear of potential societal collapse due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Europe has seen the fastest spread after China, with Northern Italy as its epicentre. There are pressing concerns about how the pandemic will reshape the economy of the European Union. The struggling economies in Southern Europe have made a proper answer to the outbreak trickier note , have requested the countries of Northern Europe to adopt a policy of debt sharing, the so-called "coronabonds" that would ease the struggle. The supporters of this policy are the Latin countries note along with Greece, Ireland and Slovenia, with Northern European countries note showing their reluctance at the prospect. This hot debate has driven Europe into economic and cultural clashes over how the Union should be run: Southern countries are notoriously more prone to let the state intervene in financial matters, while Northern countries are more prone to the opposite, and these tendencies are shown in their response to the outbreak (or lack of, in some cases).
In Italy, another hard-hit area of the pandemic with the fifth highest death rate after the US, Brazil, Mexico, and the UK, there has been growing discontent among Italians with the European Union due to the slow response to the pandemic and Italy's already difficult economic turmoil from the previous decade. Many Italian mayors and politicians (such as Italian vice-president of Chamber of Deputies Fabio Rampelli) took down European Union flags and replaced them with Italian flags (and sometimes Cuban, Russian, and Chinese flags to show solidarity to those countries for sending medical aid to Italy earlier than the European Union), and many Italians took to social media protesting the European Union by burning European Union flags. Northern Italy and its key economic region, Lombardy, have the highest mortality rate in Europe and have experienced firsthand the lockdown that is being adopted in other European countries. The lockdown has unfortunately slowed their production. In Southern Italy the virus is seeing far less casualties, but the lockdown has frozen its already rocky economy, with unemployment and poverty raising concerns about how local mafias will use the lockdown to tie impoverished families to its gears if/when the State fails to take proper initiative.
Among Northern European countries, Sweden emerged as a surprise hotspot. While the country has a robust health care system and welfare state, the Swedish government opted not to pursue a lockdown, arguing that it would harm the economic and instead relied on herd immunity and personal responsibility of its citizens. Unfortunately this approach backfired with Sweden having a death per population rate of 35 per 100,000 as of May 2020; by comparison, that is more than 7 times higher than that of neighboring Scandinavian country Norway, which went into lockdown. As for averting a recession, the Swedish economy ended up contracting anyway and many analysts predict that its economic recovery will be bumpier than that of Norway's. To make matters worse, when the Nordic countries began reopening their borders for travel, they excluded Swedish residents due to the country's high number of cases. While Sweden hasn't experienced a second wave yet, the country became a cautionary tale for any nation that doesn't pursue lockdowns.
There are several key reasons for the pandemic's severity, but before listing them, remember that humanity has known about this virus for less than a year, and while research continues at a frantic pace, no facts about its properties should be considered iron-clad; they are mostly based on the preliminary results currently available and the behavior of similar coronaviruses.
- The disease is spread via airborne distribution through respiratory droplets. All an infected person needs to do to release the virus — and all a healthy person needs to do to catch it — is breathe.
- While it needs a live host, it can survive for three hours in the air in the aforementioned droplets which can reach as far as six feet away from the infected person, and it can survive for two to three days on a surface, and people who touch those surfaces can be infected if they touch their face or eyes. (Though infection via this route appears to be much less prevalent than direct respiratory contact.) It also jumps between species with relative ease, with several identified cases of pets testing positive after their owners.
- There is a very slow incubation period; it takes up to two weeks for the virus to become symptomatic, and there's research to suggest that some never develop symptoms at all despite being infected by the virus.
- An infected person is already contagious during this incubation period, resulting in asymptomatic carriers Definition who can spread the disease and infect others without knowing they have it in the first place, making it harder to contain. (Compare this to SARS, which is at its most contagious when a person is already flat-on-their-back sick and can be isolated from the rest of the population easily)
- Whether or not an infected person acquires antibody immunity against further infection, and if so for how long, remains a hotly-debated topic. (Remember, again, even the earliest victims have only had the disease for a few months). If a person does get infected again, due to the lasting and long-term effects of the disease, they'll be weaker to fight it again. And even if they recover from the disease completely, they can still have long-term signs and symptoms that they may never recover due to permanent damage from many vital organs (i.e. lungs, heart, kidney, brain, etc).
In particular point number 4 has been cited as the main reason for the outbreak's severity; anyone you meet while going about your life can potentially infect everyone around them despite appearing healthy, and you are no exception! - you might be infected as you read this without knowing it, but you cannot know for certain outside of being tested. Because of this, the need for widespread testing is much greater than for other diseases, but many governments either lack the resources to conduct the needed tests or waited until the person has developed symptoms already to proceed with the test, and by then the patient may have already infected an unknown number of people. Vaccine candidates and antivirals are being tested, but there are no official cures or vaccines for the disease and the threat of a treatment-resistant mutation constantly lingers overhead (owing to the lack of available scientific literature on how the virus mutates), leaving economically destructive social distancing as the only sure-fire form of prevention available.
The pandemic and all the social distancing involved have had a massive impact on the entertainment industry, with theaters closing, major events being cancelled, and many creative works that were set for release in 2020 seeing their release dates changed multiple times as people take shelter in their homes, while the production of others was halted. Some films that hadn't been released to theaters yet are seeing unprecedented early digital releases. Some movies (such as those from Universal) are even arriving to digital platforms simultaneously with their theatrical releases, which might lead to massive changes in the film industry. By contrast, North American Comic Books is a medium facing a much tougher time, with Diamond Comic Distribution which rules a practical monopoly on the distribution of comics to retailers suddenly going on a weeks-long shutdown where no new comics would be shipped, pointing to a difficult future for the comic medium, further complicated by the fact that the digital market for traditional comics is still not as widespread as other forms of entertainment such as Film and TV, and most consumers still prefer the physical format (specially due to the inherent value of the comic itself in a widespread resale and collectible market). Live theater and music will likely not recover fully in the United States or the United Kingdom; Cirque du Soleil declared it was filing for bankruptcy in July due to all but one of their productions (ironically a Chinese resident show) being unable to reopen so long as social distancing/large gathering orders are in place and laid off thousands of performers, Broadway theaters in New York City will not reopen until winter 2021 at the earliest, and many smaller companies and venues face similar ruin. It also had a devastating effect on the comic/pop culture convention market, with signature events like San Diego Comic-Con and DragonCon declaring their first cancellations in years, if not ever.
However, despite the delay or cancellation of multiple events worldwide the international lockdown was made more bearable than it could have been mere decades ago thanks to the widespread availability of the Internet providing many with easy access to sophisticated telecommunications, home entertainment, and education to help make the required physical distancing that much easier, as it has enabled many to not only work from home but also ensured that the streaming medium has flourished under the circumstances, with services like YouTube, Netflix and Disney+, to say nothing of online media retail like Google Play and Apple TV taking up the slack. Indeed, major film companies have taken the opportunity to make a virtue out of a necessity to try releasing major films online directly, such as Universal's Dreamworks Animation's Trolls: World Tour, to promising financial results. In some cases, pre-existing works involving themes of characters becoming sick were temporarily pulled from rotation so people wouldn't be reminded of the pandemic, such as Disney Channel pulling an episode of Amphibia in which Anne pretends to be sick from its lineup.
That said, the isolation caused by quarantine has had a noticeably negative effect on the mental health of the population, especially extroverts, for whom lack of large-scale social interaction is psychologically exhausting, leading psychologists to express concern about the sociopsychological aftereffects of the pandemic; especially given how several hospitals in the U.S. have reported a rise in suicide cases since self-quarantine went into effect.
The 2020 edition of the Eurovision Song Contest (to be held in Rotterdam, The Netherlands) was canceled because of the pandemic, just two months before it would have happened, marking the first time the long-running competition had ever been canceled since its inception in 1956. It was later decided that the prospective 2021 edition would return to Rotterdam with heightened health and safety precautions, as well as contingency plans to prevent a second cancelation if the virus is still a global issue by that point. While many of the acts who would have participated have confirmed their plans to return for 2021, all of their 2020 entries were deemed null and void (due to competition rules) and will need to select new songs to present. (The slogan for the 2020 edition, Open Up, became an ironic downer in the wake of its cancelation.)
Misinformation and conspiracy theories have been widespread during the pandemic (such as claims of the virus being man-made or a bioweapon or accusations that the death tolls were inflated to push a political agenda or even that the entire pandemic has been fabricated and there's no virus at all). It has gotten to the point that various social media websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Google had to work with the World Health Organization to combat the spread of misinformation (which had the unfortunate consequences of censoring many creators who just mentioned the virus by its name, forcing them to find ways around it). The other wiki has more information on this.
As a knock-on effect of the COVID-19 outbreak, global stock markets began to enter a correction in late February and then outright crashed in the week between March 9th and March 13th, with Monday and Thursday of that week being called "Black Monday" and "Black Thursday" respectively as a result. Stocks only continued downhill from there, with the Dow Jones dropping below 20,000 for the first time since it climbed above that threshold in 2017. As it is, some businesses are seeing their stocks skyrocket, none more dramatically than Zoom, an online video conferencing service that has proven most useful for business, entertainment, social or even religious meetings in this public health crisis. However, that platform also faced criticism for its security flaws as a phenomenon called "Zoombombing" emerged, with many hackers, Internet trolls and delinquents intruding on video conference calls, then speaking or sharing racist, antisemitic, and/or otherwise Not Safe for Work content, usually forcing Zoom sessions to prematurely end.
A social effect of the pandemic is heightened xenophobia and racism against people perceived as being from areas that are heavily affected by the virus, such as East and Southeast Asians (especially ethnic Chinese). There has also been heightened racism against foreigners (particularly Africans) in China due to fears of a "second wave" of coronavirus outbreaks coming from foreignersnote . Scientists feared horseshoe bats and pangolins would become even more endangered as a result of hunting due to their being believed to be initial carriers of the disease, and Wuhan's public image was near-irreparably damaged as a result of being the center of the pandemic's first major outbreak. Calls for tighter restrictions on open-air markets have also become louder in response to the outbreak.
Countries that have begun to make preparations to reopen their borders have announced they will not allow citizens from countries with high infection rates into their countries. Due to the U.S. having the highest rate of infection worldwide this has severely limited American citizens from international travel. Notably only 9 countries in the world are open to U.S. citizens with no restrictions, all others require medical proof or enforce a quarantine protocol in order to allow them into their countries, and even a Canadian poll has determined that 81% of the Canadian citizens polled wish for their U.S. border to remain closed at least through the end of 2020.
The World Health Organization has faced criticisms for how they handled the pandemic, to the point that many governments have accused the multinational organization of being directly influenced by Beijing, and the Trump administration considered cutting funding to said organization (the United States is considered the top financial contributor to the World Health Organization) before announcing their intent to withdraw from the WHO entirely. The US government itself faced criticisms for its slow response to the pandemic, including misinformation (such as the promotion of chloroquinenote , injections of disinfectant, and internal UV light application as treatments, which prompted the medical community and cleaning products manufacturers to quickly and publicly contradict that messaging saying those latter methods are medically useless and dangerous), the firing of US Navy captain Brett Crozier for whistleblowing on infected sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, and a push to prematurely end lockdown, which resulted in a far more devastating second wave of the virus with a much heavier effect on young adults. The Chinese government has utilized the pandemic as a foreign relations opportunity to portray themselves as a world leader in combating pandemics by sending medical teams and supplies to hard-hit areas (such as Italy), although the Chinese government has also faced criticisms within their own population and from other governments on how they have responded to the virus (such as the government's attempt to silence the Chinese whistleblower doctor, Li Wenliang, for trying to warn the public about the coronavirus before it became a pandemic). The pandemic has also worsened U.S. and Chinese diplomatic relations, which were already tense during the previous decade with the Trump administration's trade war with China. It has gotten to the point where both the United States and China are blaming each other for causing the pandemic with various acts of misinformation (such as the Chinese government's accusations that the coronavirus was brought by the U.S. military, and the American government's accusations that it began in a lab in Wuhan).
Practically every sports league on the planet, from the highest professional leagues down to local, amateur suburban leagues were either delayed from starting, prevented from finishing, had their seasons canceled outright or just ended prematurely, and public attendances were severely curtailed, if not outright banned altogether. The 2020 Summer Olympics was moved to 2021 as a result of the outbreak, after it forced many sports tournaments and qualifiers involved with the Olympics to be canceled, making it the first Olympics to be postponed in history (though with the "2020" branding intact), and the fourth games to be disrupted in the Olympic cycle (the 1916 Olympic games were canceled due to World War I, while World War II forced the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 games, also making the 2020 Olympics the only one to be disrupted for a reason other than war).
On a brighter note, due to the significantly reduced air travel and car traffic (primarily due to lockdowns, quarantine, and travel bans) and closures of several factories and warehouses, there has been a significant reduction of air pollution. Cities such as Los Angeles, Shanghai, Delhi, and Beijing have seen clear skies for the first time in decades. With no more motorboating on it, the waters of Venice's canals are clear again for the first time in ages with no boats churning the sediment. Environmental analysts predict that the majority of this effect will only be short-lived and anticipate a return to the more ecologically destructive norm once the pandemic ends. On the flipside, the increased popularity of and tolerance towards working from home is expected by most analysts to be long-lasting.
As the pandemic is still ongoing, the full impact of it cannot be fully determined. Many analysts predict that it will be the next big cultural and political reset button for the world moving forward in the same way the September 11, 2001 attacks functioned. However, what exactly will come out of it is still only a matter of highly malleable guesswork at the moment.