The Economist Group’s Intelligence Unit published a slick graphic showing how confirmed cases of COVID-19 have stacked up by country over time:
— The Economist Intelligence Unit (@TheEIU) March 27, 2020
It’s a compelling, if not terrifying watch. Tracking begins on January 22, with a total of 555 coronavirus cases worldwide, and continues up to March 26, when 529,591 people had been infected.
What’s notable is how exponential the pandemic’s growth has been in the last three weeks.
The epidemic was growing almost exclusively in China until mid-February: On February 12, China had amassed 44,759 cases—before the country broadened its definition of the disease—while other countries included in the graphic each had less than 100 cases.
But once the disease started spreading—first to South Korea, then Italy and Iran, and then to the United States—cases started proliferating exponentially. On March 5, China had 80,537 confirmed cases, Italy had 3,858, and the U.S. had 217. But by March 26, just three weeks later, numbers in Italy and the U.S. had soared to staggering heights: Italy had 80,589 cases, and the U.S. was the new world leader, with 83,836 cases.
China, meanwhile, saw a minimal increase with 81,782 cases.
By and large, this jibes with what we know of how countries have handled their outbreaks. After the outbreak originated in Wuhan in December, China barred all citizens from crossing into or out of the city on January 23—at the apex of Lunar New Year travel—which may explain why China’s growth rate was relatively steady from late January to mid-February. And on February 2, China kicked it up a notch with a variety of draconian tactics within Wuhan itself, including turning hotels and schools into quarantine centers and shipping people off in human-sized safe boxes. By late February, China’s growth rate had nearly flatlined.
While China’s harsh measures were criticized, the U.S. has been criticized for its slow-footed, lackluster response to the pandemic. The White House spent weeks downplaying the coronavirus’ threat, and then a baffling blunder by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention left states in dire shortage of test kits. Experts suspect the country’s reluctance to lock down major cities has contributed to the virus’s growth, as it may have in Italy as well.
What’s clear in any case is that this trend does not look good! Watch the EIU’s whole animation here.