An outbreak of a brand new disease that was first identified in December 2019—named by the World Health Organization as "coronavirus infectious 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 coronavirus related to SARS and MERS, named "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" or "SARS-CoV-2")—was recognized as a pandemic by the WHO on March 11, 2020. As of 10 January 2021, it has to date infected over 90.9 million people, with over 1.94 million deaths. The disease's outbreak and its subsequent progress and effects on the world were and are, without a question, the defining event of 2020 (and the main reason why the year was "ruined" for many people) and may well end up defining the decade that is to follow.
Also see The Spanish Flu, a major influenza pandemic which happened about a century before COVID-19 with similar patterns.
Overall history of the pandemic:
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 2020 with the most infections and deaths in the world, with over 22.7 million people infected and over 378,000 deathsnote . Most of the infections and deaths came from the Northeast from March to May 2020, and later, from the southern States and California.note
Elsewhere in East Asia, neighboring countries were able to successfully contain the virus. Despite initial fears of massive outbreaks because of their urbanized populations and proximity to China, Asian countries like Japan and South Korea kept the pandemic under control with nearly all citizens wearing masks and governments carrying out intensive testing for quarantining carriers. Mask-wearing was particularly effective as the tightly-packed nature of cities like Tokyo and Singapore make it nearly impossible for social distancing. Even more remarkable is how the Asian countries were so well-equipped for the pandemic that they didn't even need to go into lockdown to set up the necessary health care infrastructure.
Due in part to pressure from both Washington and their residents, many states started easing up on stay-at-home orders by or on Memorial Day weekend, only to see people often deliberately not following the social distancing/mask-wearing restrictions that remained, resulting in a dramatic uptick of cases and new shortages of protective equipment for workers at hospitals. Matters only became tenser as waves of Black Lives Matter and Antifa related unrest around the country and the world launched that summer; even with many demonstrators wearing masks and attempting to distance themselves from each other note there were fears of their being "superspreader" events alongside events related to the "reopen the economy" movement — e.g. 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 even/especially Trump's 2020 Presidential campaign rallies, which often discouraged/ignored masks and social distancing. However, preliminary studies have shown that the unrest related to BLM and Antifa did not lead to significant rises in cases as demonstrators were wearing masks and gathering outdoors, making it more difficult to spread the virus.
Tellingly, a second wavenote of COVID-19 emerged that 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 again becoming the top point of focus in the news cycle and public discussion, eclipsing the protests. Many analysts pin the second wave more on the mass reopenings, particularly in the southern states and California where most of the infections and deaths occurred, as a result of people participating in them being much less likely than the protesters to adhere to protective practices. The pandemic shouldered some of the blame for the protests starting in the first place, since there was so little to distract people from news about Police Brutality (not to mention that the anti-lockdown protests of the spring had been far less criticized), and proved a major complication for the 2020 Presidential election due to many voters struggling to vote early or by mail rather than risk long waits and/or infection at in-person voting sites, problems already apparent during primary season.
In one of the most dramatic — or to many, so predictable that the only twist is that it didn't happen sooner — twists in an already-dramatic election, Trump and many of his associates caught the virus in late September. Trump's case was severe enough he had to be hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for a few days. Even after this, he continued to downplay the severity of the pandemic, arguing people could not let it "dominate" their lives and even claiming he was immune to it as he returned to campaigning. What was generally regarded as a third wave began in the back half of October, now with virtually the entire country seeing huge upticks in cases and hospitalizations as colder weather set in (discouraging outdoor gatherings, dining, etc.), many people continued to flout social distancing and mask rules, and the Trump administration shifted its focus to managing the pandemic rather than ending it, putting its emphasis on the development of vaccines and treatments rather than reinforcing rules, reintroducing lockdowns, and/or providing economic support to hurting families and business owners. Public frustration and disapproval with Trump's handling of the pandemic was a major factor in Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election.
North of America, Canada has had much better success in containing the virus to an extent, due in part to bipartisan cooperation from various politicians on all levels of government that set aside differences to flatten the curve. Notably, Ontario Premier Doug Ford (a conservative) and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (a liberal), who have butted heads in the past, worked famously together to handle the pandemic. Thanks to their efforts, the curve was stabilized to a cautiously optimistic level in August of 2020, but in October the second wave of infections began, resulting in more lockdowns. Federally, the government was forced to institute unprecedented social programs for those who were now unemployed by the pandemic, measures that were seen by many Canadians as being a critical lifeline. The pandemic also shined a light onto the failures of the systems as they were, and forced the government to resolve them into a "21st-century system." Some of these social programs included the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) note , a reduction of requirements for Employment Insurance benefits, and benefits for sickness, maternity, and saving graces for gig economy and self-employed people. As a result of these and a careful strategy to dealing with the pandemic, Canada has been reported to be recovering better economically and otherwise than its southern neighbour.
On a related note, the pandemic has also caused a slight souring of relations between some sections of people within the United States and Canada - the shared border between the two countries was closed for all but essential travel, with all travelers into Canada (citizen or not) required by law to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. While this has mostly been seen as a reasonable measure to slow the spread, especially given the abysmally bad infection rate south of the shared border, some particularly selfish Americans have taken advantage of the highway route between Washington state and Alaska, which passes through Canada note , to skirt the rules. Reports of harassment of people with American plates in Canada (many of whom are legal residents of the country) have been common since the border was closed, and opinions on Americans have dipped slightly in Canada as a result of these few.
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 and uncertainty over how the presidential victory of Joe Biden will pan out. Trump's final days in office were far more focused on trying to overturn the election results than work on anything related to the pandemic, even as the slower-than-hoped rollout of vaccines and additional economic stimulus further frustrated Americans and daily death tolls regularly topped 4,000. On January 6, 2021, during a Joint Session of Congress to ratify the results of the election, Trump staged a rally outside, telling a crowd of his supporters to march to Congress to protest the results. Thanks in part to shockingly poor security at the Capitol note , this not only escalated into a riot, but the mob smashed its way into Congress (the first time it had been breached since 1814 — when British forces invaded as part of the War of 1812), forcing the evacuation of lawmakers who had to wait several hours to resume the session. In the aftermath, Trump was forced to concede the election after over two months of adamantly contesting the results, was suspended from social media indefinitely, and on January 14 he was impeached by the House of Representatives for "incitement of insurrection" — making him the first U.S. president to be impeached twice (he'd previously been in January 2020) as it would disqualify him from being able to run in 2024, among other things.
In Italy, another hard-hit area of the pandemic with the fifth highest death toll after the US, Brazil, India, Mexico, and the UK, there has been growing discontent among some Italians with the European Union due to the slow response to the pandemic, Italy's already difficult economic turmoil from the previous decade and an erroneous (and often deliberately manufactured) but widespread perception that other countries such as Cuba, Russia, and China were offering greater or faster assistance than fellow EU members. A few fringe right-wing 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 some 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 despite having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Unlike the other Nordic countries, Sweden opted for a partial lockdown (i.e. restricting large gatherings but not closing gyms and restaurants) with its government arguing that a total lockdown would harm the economy and that personal responsibility of its citizens and herd immunity would be more effective in limiting the disease. Unfortunately this approach backfired with Sweden having a fatality rate of 58.6 deaths per 100,000 people as of October 2020; by comparison, that is approximately 10 times higher than that of neighboring Norway, which went into a total 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 with Denmark going so far as deploying physical barriers and border guards. Similarly damming are recent revelations that the Swedish government discouraged wearing life-saving masks even among health care providers in an attempt to downplay the pandemic, which only placed more people in harm's way. While Sweden's second wave arrived a bit later than that of the rest of Europe, owing to expanded testing and contact tracing, the country became a cautionary tale.note In December 2020, the highly infectious British strain of the virus was detected in Norway despite a travel ban.
As time went on, the UK became one of the hardest-hit of all European countries, with a confused governmental response at first counting on herd immunity, before hastily switching to the same lockdown measures as elsewhere when shown projections of the catastrophic consequences would ensue from their original strategy. This was further worsened by the UK's complicated and increasingly hostile break from the EU, which has isolated it from shared European recovery efforts, dividing the nation and further damaging its economy at the worst possible moment. The pandemic was especially disastrous for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the pandemic not only derailed the post-Brexit talks but Johnson became infected in the process, he had earlier boasted about shaking hands with coronavirus sufferers to prove it wasn't contagious. He recovered, but a rise in cases forced the UK to go back into a national lockdown in November, just over seven months after they had gone into their first lockdown. Then the emergence of a more contagious variant of the virus in 2020 lead to the UK government adding more restrictions and the world cutting off travel to the country, which was heavily criticised due to being announced just the week before Christmas, when the Government had previously said lockdown measures would be reduced that day.
Australian borders were closed to all non-residents from 20 March; all returning travellers are required to undergo two weeks' quarantine in hotels. From March onwards, many states and territories also closed their internal borders, with similar quarantine requirements for exempt travellers. A breach of quarantine in Melbourne hotels led to the state of Victoria experiencing a second wave and returning to strict lockdown measures from July through to October. The Australian National Cabinet's stated pandemic policy goal is "zero community transmission," in contrast to the mitigation policies of most other Western countries.
New Zealand reported its first case on 28 February 2020 from a citizen who had arrived from Iran on 26 February. The New Zealand Government introduced a four-level alert system on 21 March to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand. On 25 March, the country moved into Alert Level 4, placing the country in a nationwide lockdown and closing its borders. While mass gatherings were banned and schools and most businesses were closed, essential services such as supermarkets, petrol stations, and health services remained open. Due to successful efforts to eliminate the pandemic within New Zealand's borders, the alert level system was progressively lowered to Level 3 on 27 April and Level 2 on 13 May, with lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures being eased at each stage. On 9 June, New Zealand entered into Alert level 1, where remaining restrictions on economic activities and daily life were eliminated but the country's borders remained closed to most international travellers.
On 4 May, the country marked the first day without the reports of any new case of COVID-19, a month after the country announced lockdown. By 31 May, there was only one active case with a total of 1,504 (1,154 confirmed and 350 probable) cases, 1,481 recoveries, and 22 deaths. By 8 June, that last active case had recovered. Following 24 consecutive days of no new cases, two new cases resulting from overseas travel were reported on 16 June. On 11 August, four cases were reported in Auckland, making the first reported community transmissions after 102 days.
- 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 and livestock 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, making it harder to contain. There's even evidence that people can be contagious for some time after apparent recovery, though much less so than in earlier stages of the disease.note
- Although the mortality rate in symptomatic cases is around 2%, which may not seem so bad* , the disease's rapid spread and ease of transmission means that each day the hundreds of thousands of new infections still result in thousands of deaths. On the same token, the higher the number of cases, the higher number of cases that require hospitalization; this can potentially overwhelm health systems, causing shortages of PPE* and ICUs* , in addition to the heavy toll and strain put on the medical personel, all these in turn causing even more deaths that could have been prevented.
- Although it is commonly believed that only sickly, elderly, or immune system compromised people are at risk of dying from the disease, reality is that the factors that affect the outcome of it are not fully understood yet. There are cases of very old people recovering from it, and of healthy and fit people in their 20's or 30's that have died or ended up with life-long health problems. Research has uncovered a link between infection severity (and therefore mortality rate) and Vitamin D deficiency, with many high-profile specialists including Dr. Anthony Fauci advising people to supplement their diets with it. note
- Whether or not an infected person acquires antibody immunity against further infection, and if so for how long, has been a hotly debated topic. (Remember, again, even the earliest victims have only had the disease for a few months.) As of September 2020, COVID-19 reinfections have been confirmed in Belgium, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, and the US state of Nevada. A person who gets infected again, due to the lasting and long-term effects of the disease, is weaker to fight it again. And even if they recover from the disease completely, they can still have long-term signs and symptoms from which they may never recover due to permanent damage to many vital organs (i.e. lungs, heart, kidney, brain, etc.).note The body's inability to reliably recover from the virus and build long-term immunity is why the herd immunity strategy of getting as many people infected doesn't work.
- Relatedly, much of the evidence currently available suggests that the main problem with the virus is that it is a blood infection as much as it is a "lung" infection; thickened or unusual blood is a very common report for severe COVID patients, and while the lungs are often heavily affected by this (being one of the most blood-rich organs in the body, natch) this is what causes the virus to play havoc on virtually every organ in the body, since the virus' effect on one's blood has knock-on effects in every organ or organic system the victim possesses.
In particular, point number 4 has been cited as the main reason for the outbreak's severity; take a moment to internalize that anyone you meet while going about your life can potentially infect everyone around them despite appearing completely healthy, and also that you are no exception! — you might be infected as you read this, but without being tested you cannot know for certain. 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 yet 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.
As of the time of writing in early January 2021, emergency-approval-granted vaccines entering deployment - but despite millions of doses having already been produced and used, billions more need to follow suits, and the timeline for wide-scale immunisation efforts range from anywhere between early to late 2021. Considering the virus was known only in early 2019, this is the fastest that a vaccine has been developed for any disease and the first time a vaccine has been successfully developed for any coronavirus. While unfortunately this has lead some to suspect the vaccines have been "rushed" and might not be safe, in reality it seems to simply be a matter of medical science being more advanced than in the past. It also helped that much of the research into SARS-CoV-1 (the virus behind the 2002 SARS outbreak) was useful in creating vaccines for the related SARS-CoV-2.
Live theater and music will likely take years to recover, and likely not fully, in North America and Western Europe. 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 mid-2021 at the earliest, and many smaller companies and venues face outright ruin. It came to the point that the U.K. government launched a campaign encouraging such artists to reconsider their career choices and retrain for "useful" jobs in October 2020, to much public disgust. 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, though they staged online-based alternative events as substitutes.
While the tourism and hospitality have taken a massive blow owing to travel restrictions, the cruising industry became one of the biggest casualties of the pandemic. During the beginning of pandemic, the Diamond Princess cruise ship became a major outbreak site owing to its proximity to Wuhan, the cramped conditions, and lack of sanitary regulations, which led to 20% of all people on board becoming infected. The news of the outbreak dampened enthusiasm for cruising and lead to stock prices of cruise lines to tank by 70% in just two months. Many cruise lines were barred from bailouts by the US government as they are registered in foreign countries to avoid higher taxes and regulations. Even if the pandemic ends, many industry analysts doubt that the cruising will ever make a comeback, given how the tightly packed nature of cruise ships makes them highly susceptible to disease outbreaks.
Compared to other entertainment mediums, video games are thriving amidst the pandemic — at least at first glance. As game studios already allow working remotely, and playing video games doesn't involve physical interaction with others, the industry saw record revenue during the first few months of the pandemic with relatively few layoffs. Most notably, Nintendo saw its profits soar by more than 428% in the April-June quarter thanks to the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons around the same time mass lockdowns were happening. However, the cancellation of major trade shows like E3 has been a blow for indie developers who rely on conventions for exposure. As the pandemic dragged on, video game production began experiencing setbacks as social distancing rules slowed production at hardware supply chains and remote working limited developer access to equipment normally found in studios. The pandemic also coincided with the launch of the Ninth Console Generation, meaning that several developers have to port their games to multiple platforms with fewer available resources. Combined with high demand induced by a new round of lockdown orders, these problems lead to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S selling out at launch. For now, the video game industry are faring better than its film and theater peers, but there is still some doubt whether the current path is sustainable.
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, Disney+, and Tik Tok, 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. In fact, with theatrical presention heavily restricted under the circumstances and regular television on the decline, Disney has announced it will be reorienting its media production with online streaming being the primary presentation medium (confirmed that December with the announcement of many new direct-to-streaming films and series). This was then one-upped by Warner Bros. and HBO in a move announced on December 3rd, 2020: all of WB's 2021 movie slate would go live on the HBO Max streaming service the very same day as its theater release (or lack of theater release, COVID-related problems depending) and would only require a subscription to HBO Max, rather than per-movie fees. This is without much exaggeration the biggest seismic shift in motion picture distribution since the widespread adoption of television: brand new tentpole films sent straight to streaming with absolutely no delay (cutting out traditional television networks and traditional home video entirely) meaning that theaters now will solely rely on the experience they can offer rather than exclusivity of content; moreover, WB and HBO evidently banked on increased subscriptions to HBO Max making up for potential lost box office proceeds. How permanent this arrangement will be remains to be seen, but it represented a colossal shift in distribution and marketing, all largely driven by the realities of COVID and pandemic life.
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.)
After a brief period in March of just shooting without audiences, the television industry began to visibly adapt its forms of presentation to conditions. Some newscasters and most talk show hosts and live-episode reality show talent quickly adapted rooms, garages or patios in their homes into makeshift mini-studios - with guests also appearing by teleconference. SNL also finished its season with three at home episodes taped in this manner. Series like Holey Moley and The Masked Singer incorporated animated segments to replace ones they couldn't film. Several new shows were also created with teleconferencing as a primary feature to replace those not in production.
By fall 2020, production resumed on an adapted basis with socially distanced panel/contestant placement, audiences of teleconference monitors or cardboard cutouts (as previously done by pro sports), use of mannequins and spouses for kissing scenes - as well as less visible measures such as reduced hair/makeup, robotic cameras, masked crews and regular testing. However, news/talk guests often continued to appear primarily via teleconference. The beginning of the Fall 2020 TV season was effectively shifted to either November or January, depending on the network. However, globally-oriented reality shows The Amazing Race and Survivor fully halted production of future seasons until feasible.
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 9 and March 13, 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.
One notable negative 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 (which is a tremendous reversal from the post-World War II status quo previously enjoyed by virtually every American). 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.
Practically every sports league on the planet around the start of the pandemic, from the highest professional leagues down to local amateur suburban leagues, were either delayed from starting, prevented from finishing earlier than anticipated, had their seasons canceled outright, or just ended things prematurely (with American football leagues that started in the fall being the only relatively lucky ones there), with public attendances severely curtailed, if not outright banned altogether by then. Some sporting seasons that started in 2020, but went into 2021 had to either delay their starting points (sometimes significantly) and/or had to enforce drastic changes to make them work at all. One extreme example had the 2020 Summer Olympics moved onto to 2021 as a result of the outbreak, after it forced many sports tournaments and qualifiers involved with the Olympics to be canceled. This makes it the first Olympiad to be postponed in history (though with the "2020" branding intact for "reasons"), 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).
Effects of the pandemic on mass media:
- Channel Hop (theatrical films that were released direct-to-streaming due to the pandemic)
- Delayed Release Tie-In (merchandise for media works that were delayed due to the pandemic)
- Release Date Change (other works of media which had delayed releases due to the pandemic)
Fictional depictions of the pandemic:
- Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the first film with mainstream exposure to address the subject, more precisely how people in the USA live through it and how the Trump administration handles it. That mockumentary wasn't intended to be about it since it started filming before the outbreak, but the inevitable circumstances prompted Sacha Baron Cohen to include it.
- Corona, an upcoming Canadian drama thriller film about a group of people trapped in an elevator during the pandemic. The film was written and directed by Mostafa Keshvari, and made in part to address xenophobia and racism related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Covid Zombies, a comedy horror film directed by Charles Band. It stars Cody Renee Cameron as Barbie, a woman who finds herself facing an outbreak of zombies infected by the pandemic.
- Songbird takes place in 2024 and follows a couple that tries to meet during the still ongoing pandemic and lockdown. This version of the virus has considerably mutated, with a mortality rate of 50%. Production started in May 2020.
- Totally Under Control is a documentary by Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, that details the Trump administration's response to and handling of the pandemic in America.
- Shudder original supernatural horror film Host was set in April 2020, during the early weeks of the UK's first lockdown. It is about a group of young women who accidentally summon a demon over a Zoom call.
- Connectés ("Connected"), the first French film related to the pandemic, filmed in June 2020 and released on Prime Video. It is a riff on Unfriended where a group of friends is having an aperitif party on Zoom during the lockdown. Suddenly, one of them is threatened by a masked man. Said man happens to know all of their secrets.
- Doug Liman's Locked Down, released on HBO Max in January 2021. Stars Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a quarreling couple who make peace in order to take advantage of the pandemic and pull off a jewellery heist at the Harrods department store.
- Aiden Tyler, Quaran-Teen takes place between February and June 2020 and follows the title character over the early months of the pandemic. Originally released as a weekly podcast serial, it was written and edited in real time to reflect changes as they happened.
- All Rise was one of the first scripted dramas to acknowledge the pandemic in-universe, filming a replacement season finale (airing in May) where the main characters conducted their first bench trial over videoconference. The whole episode was filmed at the actors' homes with webcams, interspersed with aerial footage of Los Angeles for establishing shots. When the show returned with new episodes in November, most of the characters were shown wearing face masks or shields, and capacity in the gallery greatly reduced.
- Bull also dealt with the impact of COVID as a plot point in its season premiere, "My Corona". Bull ends up having to adapt in a case where he would have a remote jury who could only be heard, and not seen. In the end, however, it ends up being a nightmare experienced by Bull, who wakes up in a hospital recovering from the virus, and is informed that in-person jury trials would be resuming in New York with precautions (which did not end up being as extreme as Bull feared). This is promptly followed by a Dance Party Ending that shows off some of the behind the scenes safety protocols.
- Whilst the other two series in the Chicago franchise paid nods to the pandemic and acknowledged its existence - it did not feature in any major storylines - Chicago Med very much incorporated it into the storylines. The hospital has a COVID ward, one major character was confirmed to be recovering from the disease, and all patients are said to being tested.
- Coastal Elites, a HBO Made-for-TV Movie about five people navigating through the pandemic in several big US cities. It stars Bette Midler, Sarah Paulson and Daniel Levy.
- The Conners has incorporated the pandemic into their episodes, with the titular family having financial problems having opened a restaurant at the worst possible time and Darlene and Becky getting jobs at Wellman Plastics, that having reopened due to supply-chain issues from China.
- Emmerdale was the first British television soap to address the pandemic by filming six episodes showing what various characters had been doing during the UK lockdown, before resuming storylines in a post-COVID world.
- Being a medical drama, the seventeenth season of Grey's Anatomy incorporated the pandemic in the storyline where the characters deal with the usual issues that many health workers are facing. Then in the third episode, Meredith herself ends up being COVID-positive.
- Love in the Time of Corona, a romantic comedy miniseries created by Johanna Johnson. It stars Leslie Odom Jr., Nicolette Robinson, Tommy Dorfman, Rainey Qualley, Gil Bellows, Rya Kihlstedt, Ava Bellows, and L. Scott Caldwell.
- The three series in the NCIS franchise each adopted a different approach. The original series jumped back in time to late 2019 to fill in some gaps during the previous season. NCIS: Los Angeles decided to take place in a post-COVID-19 world, with the pandemic being in the past. 'NCIS: New Orleans had its seventh season premiere take place in the early days of the outbreak and the pandemic is due to play a major part in storylines.
- The New Year's special of Not Going Out acknowledged that the virus had kept the characters apart in the preceding year, and was a single-room Bottle Episode as a result of the restrictions.
- Parks and Recreation: "A Parks and Recreation Special" was a reunion special filmed online, featuring Leslie Knope checking in on the cast in lockdown.
- The second season premiere of Prodigal Son, which aired in mid-January 2021, made several references to the pandemic. Jessica Whitly tells her son Malcolm she learned to play piano while in lockdown with his sister; Officer Dani mentions she's under a lot of stress because of the global pandemic (and systemic racism); and Dr. Whitly earns his transfer from Rikers Island back to Claremont Correctional because he "helped the largest prison system on the East Coast avoid the worst of Coronavirus."
- Sesame Street: "Elmo's Playdate" has Elmo holding a virtual playdate with his friends. Throughout the call, the characters occasionally discuss topics related to the pandemic with each other such as doctors.
- Staged, featuring Good Omens (2019) costars David Tennant and Michael Sheen in Adam Westing mode. The two were supposed to put on a play that was put on hold due to the pandemic, and are now video calling each other while going stir-crazy in their homes.
- Superstore: The pandemic is incorporated into season 6, with the store's floor employees, now frontline workers, having to cope with lackluster corporate guidelines and uncooperative shoppers. In addition, Amy's impending move (prompted by America Ferrera's planned departure from the series) is hampered by the pandemic.
- Taskmaster gained some unexpected global exposure due to the pandemic. While production of the show itself was halted due to lockdown, the show's creator Alex Horne started an online "Home-Tasking" challenge via You Tube and Twitter to give himself and the show's audience something to do. As with the show itself, participants were set various unusual tasks to complete (all of which could be done in a social-distancing/lockdown-friendly fashion) and a deadline to complete them in, with the results being submitted on Twitter and judged by the show's "Taskmaster" Greg Davies. The show itself received a substantial amount of positive publicity and media attention as a result of this (though this did not sadly translate to good ratings when several seasons of the UK show debuted on American television, only to be soon cancelled due to low ratings).
- The tenth season of the show, which debuted on a new network in late 2020, also saw some changes due to the pandemic and lockdown. Most notably is that studio-based parts of the show no longer have a studio audience and instead have a laugh track, and the contestants are seated further apart from each other. Several team-based tasks were also filmed before and after lockdown in the UK, requiring some changes to accommodate social distancing requirements.
- This Is Us: The pandemic is incorporated into season 5, with some characters wearing masks when visiting loved ones. Kate and Toby's potential birth mother, Ellie, wears a Steelers face mask in one scene when she meets with them at a park.
- Upstart Crow returned with a Christmas special set in lockdown England during the plague of 1603 (a Bottle Episode taking place in one room, in real time, and featuring just David Mitchell as Shakespeare and Gemma Whelan as Kate); earlier in the year, a stage play continuing from where the series left off with several members of the show's cast reprising their roles had been forced to close after just a month due to the pandemic.
- Fetch the Bolt Cutters, an album by Fiona Apple produced during the US lockdown that explores themes and imagery of confinement relevant to the pandemic as well as Apple's own personal history.
- Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts, two albums released by Nine Inch Nails during the pandemic as a show of solidarity with their fans.
- McCartney III, an album single-handedly put together by Paul McCartney during the first UK lockdown.
- While discussing the ongoing Development Hell of his still-upcoming album I/O, Peter Gabriel noted that he had written a new song about the pandemic after the first UK lockdown forced him to delay the record yet again.
- Luke Combs' "Six Feet Apart" was written about all of the things he wants to do but can't because of the pandemic.
- How I'm Feeling Now, Charli XCX's latest album, is notable that it was entirely made from scratch during self-isolation while still getting fan feedback through sharing demos, single releases and song ideas.
- The Rolling Stones recorded the single "Living in a Ghost Town" during, and about, a major lockdown period in the first half of 2020.
- In Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, Layla's brother asks in an e-mail if the reason she's disappearing for a while is because she's socially distancing from COVID-19, when the reality is that she's looking through Eivor's memories with the help of Shaun and Rebecca.
- COVID '99: Paddle Royale, also known as and located at Covid99.io, is a Battle Royale Game and .io Game hybrid in which you bounce COVID-19 viruses with a paddle and a refillable blast ability to 49 other players. Getting hit with a virus raises your temperature, which causes you to lose if you reach 104 degrees. You can send viruses to others every so often and select how you target the other players.
- World Of Mines received a sequel called World of Virus in June 2020, which is similar to the original but with a red virus you have to flag with pills and non-virus tiles you have to uncover instead. The game's icon depicts a girl wearing a mask, removing any remaining ambiguity what virus it is.
- Apocalyptic Horseplay: The epilogue of the comic takes place in the year 2020 and showcases what the characters got up to after the events of the story. When it focuses on Pesty, the horsemen of pestilence, it's shown that he was responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. The reason? To bring back his horse, Fever, who was stabbed and killed during the events of the story just as she reunited with him. Unleashing the pandemic allowed him enough power to reform her so the two could live peacefully in the East.
- xkcd: This comic notes that works presumably "set in the present" but produced before the pandemic feel like depictions of a different time because of the absence of public health precautions such as masks and social distancing.
- Olive And Mabel: a series of videos by furloughed BBC sports commentator Andrew Cotter of his Labradors Olive and Mabel going about their daily business, to which he applied dramatic commentary as if they were competing in a series of high-profile sporting events.
- Arby 'n' the Chief: The Bytes episode "Outbreak Breakout" focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic, with the episode mainly focusing on Arbiter discussing the pandemic and criticizing the numerous nonsensical and insensitive things Chief says about it.
- Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood: "Won't You Sing Along With Me?" dealt with Daniel learning that the annual Neighborhood Carnival has been cancelled due to the pandemic, discussing many problems young children might face during the pandemic.
- South Park: "The Pandemic Special", with it naturally satirizing life during the pandemic around the town, as well as add in commentary about the "Defund the Police" campaigns that sprouted during the pandemic as part of the Black Lives Matter Movement.