Tracking covid-19 across the world

ONE YEAR has passed since a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, was discovered in Wuhan, China. More than 1.6m people are known to have died from covid-19. The routines of daily life have been disrupted for billions. The end, however, is in sight: vaccines that fight off the infection have been developed in record time. Britain became the first country to begin a vaccination programme, on December 8th; and other countries are following suit.

There is still some way to go until normal life, or something resembling it, is restored. The task of rolling out billions of vaccine shots around the world—especially those that need to be kept at temperatures far below freezing—will not be easy. Furthermore, scientists are yet to establish how long immunity lasts, and whether vaccines prevent symptoms from developing or whether they stop transmission, too. What is clear is that covid-19 will remain endemic—much like the winter flu—for some time yet.

As the map and chart above show, covid-19 is most active in Europe and North America at the moment. On December 11th the United States recorded 3,289 deaths in a single day—the most yet. Countries across western Europe have introduced new restrictions on individuals in an effort to curb infections ahead of Christmas. As a result, deaths in western Europe peaked in late November at just over 4,000 a day, whereas in eastern Europe and north America they continue to rise.

After suppressing the virus for much of its summer, the northern hemisphere is experiencing the worst of the pandemic as winter sets in. Deaths caused by covid-19 in countries whose geographic centre is north of the equator have risen from under 4,000 a day in October to nearly 10,000 a day in December. Though scientists dispute the effect that weather might have on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, in the southern-hemisphere deaths from covid-19 have remained below 2,000 a day since they peaked in August.

Our map below presents the "centre of gravity" of the epidemic as determined by the average latitude and longitude of countries, weighted by their official death toll in any given week. This approach demonstrates that since breaking out of China, the centre of the epidemic shifted westwards rapidly, and has oscillated around the north Atlantic since.

It is likely that the centre of the epidemic will shift once again. First, spring weather in March is likely to reduce the number of infections in the northern hemisphere, but may well increase them in the southern hemisphere once again. Second, as vaccines are rolled out to rich countries first—as they have the greatest financial means to acquire them—covid-19 may remain most active in poorer countries, especially those with elderly populations. Our visualisations, which use data from Johns Hopkins University and other sources, will continue to track covid-19 as it moves around the world.


Sources: Johns Hopkins University CSSE; UN; The Economist

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