Chronology of events

The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented – it has changed the global economy and society drastically within a short period of time. Governments and business leaders around the world have been forced to combat this highly infectious disease through strategies and initiatives which have required expertise, funding and resources, in many cases well beyond available means. The COVID-19 timeline below reveals a lack of preparedness and coordination in many countries.

Since the discovery of COVID-19 on 31 December 2019, more than fifteen million people have been infected,[4] 637,221 deaths have been recorded, nearly half of the global workforce are at risk of losing their livelihoods[5] and social, behavioural and religious norms have changed significantly. Various important and welcome initiatives to contain the virus and support the world economy have been advanced by global development financing institutions, philanthropists and individual governments. However, these initiatives have not prevented many countries from being overwhelmed by the pandemic.


Figure 2: High-level COVID-19 early stage timeline[6]

The high-level timeline of events that took place in the earlier stages of the spread of the virus shows that it took the virus a little more than a month after its first discovery to record a higher death toll than Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The severity of the issue prompted the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to donate USD 100 million to support COVID-19 response and preparedness, even before it had been declared a global pandemic by the WHO. By the end of March, the continuous spread and severity of the disease led to the world’s largest COVID-19 lockdown in India, a country with 1.3 billion people.

Today, efforts to develop a vaccine are continuing at pace; world leaders and private donors have pledged more than USD 8.1 billion to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, diagnostics and treatment. A number of expert groups are concurrently working on development of vaccines both in academia and among biotech and pharmaceutical companies. While a 12- to 18-month vaccine development timeline was initially estimated, these estimates are regarded as ambitious, given that a timeline of 24 to 36 months would still represent a record in vaccine development. The 12- to 18-month timeline assumes that a vaccine progresses through all stages of testing without encountering significant issues.


Figure 3: Total COVID-19 cases and deaths

At time of publication, the number of global cases and deaths are still on an upward trajectory, despite many countries recording improved recovery rates. However, many countries have been unable to flatten the curve as rapidly as other countries, despite implementing strict measures. The explanations for these variations in performance include factors such as a lack of public compliance or ineffective government coordination and implementation. In some cases, intentionally unconventional approaches, such as that of Sweden, which opted for a herd immunity approach, affected the outcomes. It is quite clear that countries need to learn rapidly and deeply from the experiences of others as they strive for more effective co-ordination and implementation. This, in turn, will enable greater public cooperation during the potentially lengthy period in which a vaccine is under development. Indeed, if it takes 24 to 36 months to complete the development of a vaccine, this will pose a significant challenge to governments as they seek to manage the pandemic effectively, generate renewed economic growth and ensure social stability.


[4] Our World in Data, 24th July 2020

[5] COVID-19: Stimulating the economy and employment, International Labour Organization (ILO), 29 April 2020

[6] COVID-19 – a timeline of the Coronavirus outbreak, Devex.com

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