Thursday marks the third anniversary of the first person falling ill with coronavirus, pushing the pandemic into its fourth year. At least 6.6 million deaths have so far been linked to COVID-19 but the real figure is believed to be much higher.
The novel coronavirus, officially known as SARS-CoV-2, first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in early December 2019, although the public was not informed about the outbreak – initially described as a cluster of pneumonia of unknown cause – until New Year’s Eve.
The earliest laboratory-confirmed case dates back to December 1, when a man fell ill with symptoms of coronavirus. He was later hospitalized and recovered. None of his family members became sick, no link was found with later cases and he had no known link to Wuhan’s seafood market.
Subsequent research identified suspected cases as early as November of that year, but those were never confirmed.
While Thursday marks the third anniversary of the first known case, it took another month before the outbreak became known to the wider public in both China and the world. The outbreak began making international headlines in January 2020.
COVID-19 has since spread to virtually every country on Earth, infecting nearly 650 million people, including 6.6 million people who died. The real death toll is believed to be far higher and is estimated to be between 16 and 29 million.
Vaccines have prevented countless hospitalizations and deaths since they first became available in December 2020, but many developing countries have yet to achieve sufficient vaccine coverage, leaving billions of people vulnerable to severe illness.
Turkmenistan is the only country which still claims to be free of coronavirus, a claim which experts have dismissed as impossible.
How the death toll evolved