Originating in a fish market in Wuhan, China, it has to date infected over 6.1 million people, with over 371,000 deaths. The outbreak was said to be caused by ye wei (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 ye wei 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, whose own prime minister was sent into intensive care; Spain; and Italy, which is a popular destination for Chinese tourists), Iran 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 third of 2020 with the most infections and deaths in the world, with over 1.8 million people infected and 105,000 deathsnote (with the most infections and deaths coming from the Northeast) as of May 2020note .
Notably, lockdown measures have caused widespread protests and unrest in the United States, demanding various state governors to end the lockdown measures and stay-at-home orders and reopen the economy. Many of these protests, however, are organized by far-right and Republican-based political groups and conspiracy theorists (many of whom falsely claim that the pandemic is a Democrat conspiracy to hinder Donald Trump's reelection campaign, which was banking on the previously-robust economy to be central to it), are not endorsed by public health and safety officials, and have little support from the public at large. (Wearing a surgical mask to both prevent the spread of the virus and protect oneself from it has become a particular flashpoint issue, leading even to the murder of a security guard 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 would only be 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.
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 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 third highest death rate note , 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.
There are several key reasons for the pandemic's severity. First of all, 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. It can survive for three hours in the air and can be caught as far as six feet away from an infected person. It can also survive for two to three days on a surface, and people who touch them can be infected if they touch their face. Second, there is a very slow incubation period; it takes up to two weeks for the virus to become symptomatic. Third, an infected person is already contagious during this incubation period (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), and asymptomatic carriers Definition can spread the disease and infect others relatively easily, making it harder to contain. 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 it was too late to do so. 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 the only solution 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 as people take shelter in their homes, while the production of others was halted. Some films that were already released to theaters or even haven'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 Distributing's practical monopoly on the distribution of such materials meaning its weeks-long shutdown during this public health crisis could mean a dire future for the print medium, considering digital presentation and distribution for popular consumption is still developing compared to film.
Indeed, the international lockdown was made more bearable than it could have been decades ago with the development and mature penetration 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. For instance, 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.
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). 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 origin of the pandemic. Calls for tighter restrictions on open-air markets have also become louder in response to the outbreak.
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). The US government itself faced criticisms for its slow response to the pandemic, including misinformation posted by Trump administration officials (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), and the firing of US Navy captain Brett Crozier for whistleblowing on infected sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Conversely, the Chinese government have 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 made worse during the Trump administration during the previous decade with his 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).
Many professional sporting events throughout the world were postponed or cancelled altogether for their respective seasons. Notable examples include:
- The 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed to 2021 as a result of the outbreak, after it forced many sports tournaments and qualifiers involved with the Olympics to be cancelled, 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 cancelled 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).
- Basketball leagues like the Chinese Basketball Association, which might have been the first league suspended as a result of the virus, and the US National Basketball Association, who suspended a couple of games on March 11 during a point when some games were still being played — due to a player and a referee getting the infection earlier — before suspending the season altogether after the remaining games that day concluded, and almost every other basketball league not long afterward, including the Euroleague and Eurocup.
- Hockey leagues like the National Hockey League, who followed the NBA's ruling a day later.
- The NCAA, who altogether cancelled their tournaments for basketball and baseball, though sports players in the spring are given an extra year of eligibility there.
- The XFL, whose second iteration was faring better than the first iteration before cancelling their 2020 season after their fifth week and eventually going into bankruptcy with no 2021 season in sight.
- Motorsports such as NASCAR, Indy Car, and Formula One also suspended their seasons and sanctioned iRacing events (the NASCAR events are televised on Fox Sports 1 and some Fox affiliates, and have set records for esports viewership and brought iRacing to national attention).
- Football/soccer leagues like Major League Soccer (where each team played in only two games total before suspending operations), along with almost every international league and tournament being suspended during mid-March (including the English Premier League, Italy's Serie A, the German Bundesliga, Spain's La Liga, the UEFA Champions League, and most qualifiers for The World Cup)note .
- Baseball leagues like Major League Baseball, where Spring Training was cancelled and the start of the season got moved to a later date, with the league planning a temporary solution just to get a 2020 season underway. That said, the South Korean national league resumed play in May 2020note
- Australia's two most popular sports leagues, the Australian Football League and National Rugby League, which suspended their seasons after the first and second rounds respectively.
- Some overseas leagues tried to complete their seasons while the pandemic was occurring, like the basketball leagues in Australia, Japan, and China, but all of them either cancelled the rest of their seasons or are postponing them even further.
- Events like the NFL Draft were implemented with alternative, modern-day technologies to make them possible, albeit with dramatic differences within.
- Both AEW and WWE still continued taping at their respective facilities in Jacksonville and Orlando without any audience members at hand, but drew controversy over Vince McMahon's political connections to Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis as the collapse of the XFL, a mass firing of talent, and the declaration of sports entertainment as an "essential" business in the state all occurred in a span of 3 days[[note]]AEW benefitted unintentionally due to also being based in Florida, but had already pre-taped several weeks' worth of shows at the time.. Both companies were also criticized for putting talent and staff at risk, though later allowed those that were not comfortable performing under the conditions to take leave, the most high profile star being Roman Reigns who is immunocompromised (being only a year removed from leukemia treatment).
- The UFC started returning to form in a similar manner on May 9 after postponing UFC 249, which was scheduled back in March.
- Even the Candidates Tournament for the World Chess Championship was suspended at the halfway point, which led to controversy when one of the players who had dropped out when the League had refused to delay the start of the tournament then demanded reinstatement when the League did delay the second half.
- South Korea, being one of the more successful countries at containing the virus, allowed the Korean Baseball Organization to begin play in early May, with games being picked up for international broadcast on ESPN2 to the joy of many baseball-starved American viewers. The Bundesliga resumed on May 16.
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.note However, environmental analysts predict that the effect will only be short-lived, and anticipate a return to the more ecologically destructive norm once the pandemic ends.