One year ago, a mysterious illness emerged in Wuhan, China, marking the start of the coronavirus pandemic that has now killed more than 1.25 million people around the world and infected tens of millions more. A 55-year-old individual from Hubei province, can be traced back as the first known case of COVID-19 on November 17, 2019. This data was published in an article in the South China Morning Post in March. Over the weeks followed, medical staff in Wuhan treated dozens of patients suffering for a range or unexplained symptoms including high fever, coughing and respiratory problems. Chinese authorities did not officially identify the first case of the new disease until December 8, 2019. Hubei Provincial Hospital’s internal investigation found that the unknown pneumonia cases were unusual and warranted further investigation, with medical staff reporting the situation to local health authorities on December 29. The Wuhan CDC search turned up several additional cases and on December 30, health authorities from Hubei province reported the pneumonia cluster to the Chinese CDC. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission sent out an alert, informing its affiliated institutions about how to respond to a possible outbreak of infectious pneumonia at this point. The commission released the first public messaging regarding the pandemic on the end of 2019 about the viral pneumonia outbreak. It reported a total of 27 confirmed cases, seven of which were in critical condition. The early evidence of the outbreak had also been reported on ProMED—one of the largest publicly available emerging disease reporting systems in the world.
The cause of the pneumonia was still unknown, Wuhan authorities advised people to wear face masks and avoid crowded areas, despite any evidence of human-to-human transmission. International media took interest in the growing coronavirus outbreak as the virus spread around the world by January. On January 12, China publicly shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus. And just a day later, officials in Thailand confirmed a case of COVID-19—the first outside China itself. By January 20, the virus had spread all around China and to a handful of other countries including Japan, Thailand, South Korea and the United States, as governments scrambled to respond to the outbreak. Just two days later, with thousands of new cases confirmed in China, the WHO declared a “public health emergency of international concern” as the U.S. government warned Americans not to travel to China, and urged those in the country leave. On March 11—with the presence of the virus now confirmed on every continent except Antarctica—the WHO declared that the COVID-19 outbreak was now a pandemic.