The COVID-19 pandemic in data visualizations

A man runs past an exhibition of white flags representing Americans who have died of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), placed over 20 acres of the National Mall, in Washington, U.S., September 17, 2021.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RC2ORP90E3YF

A man runs past white flags representing Americans who have died of COVID-19 on 20 acres of the National Mall in Washington, U.S., September 17, 2021. Image: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RC2ORP90E3YF

Andrew Berkley
Lead, Immersive Technology and Content, World Economic Forum Geneva
John Letzing
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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  • It’s been roughly a year-and-a-half since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
  • The World Economic Forum has been tracing its impact with data visualizations.
  • These excerpts reflect mounting caseloads and vaccination progress.

It’s been slightly more than a year-and-a-half since the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. For many people, it may be hard to believe it hasn’t been longer.

The global health crisis has changed the ways we work, travel, learn and socialize. It’s exacted an official death toll nearly equal to the population of Ireland (though that’s probably an undercount), permanently altered countless other lives, and exposed flaws in health care systems and the social fabric.

But it's also prompted a period of scientific triumph, as vaccines have been developed at a relatively breathtaking pace (though not everyone with the ability to take one has).

The World Economic Forum has created a number of data visualizations tracing the pandemic's impact. The following are selected excerpts.

The spread of Covid-19

The first cases of what would later be identified as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 were reported in China in late 2019. It quickly spread to multiple countries, and by the middle of this month there were about 226 million reported cases globally. Each country’s official caseload over time is represented here by expanding red dots:

The spread of Covid-19 in the world Image: World Economic Forum

Shifting hot spots

The spread of COVID-19 has been uneven within the US. New York City was an early epicenter last year, though other areas including Florida have more recently become hot spots. Official caseload levels over time are again represented here by expanding dots, but this time designated according to county:

How Covid-19 hot spots grew around the world Image: World Economic Forum

The global response

Governments around the world implemented travel restrictions, closed schools, and started contact tracing efforts as the virus spread. In many instances these measures waxed and waned in terms of severity depending on the situation. Here, the darker red a country becomes, the more severe the measures over time – and the lighter they get, the less severe:

US date format.
US date format. Image: World Economic Forum

And then, Covid-19 vaccines

In some places, vaccination efforts have stalled in recent months amid complacency and skepticism. In others, particularly in Africa, vaccines simply haven’t been made widely available yet. Here, countries turn from white to progressively darker green as the percentage of the population fully vaccinated increases over time:

US date format. Image: World Economic Forum

The Delta variant seems to have made herd immunity unlikely in most countries, at least for now. While predicted future scenarios vary, most experts appear to agree on at least two things: COVID-19 is here to stay, and our ability to contain it will depend on the choices we make.

For more context, here are links to further reading from the World Economic Forum's Strategic Intelligence platform:

  • A third shot is now being offered in several countries where people have already been fortunate enough to be fully vaccinated. This analysis delves into whether or not that’s even necessary. (The Conversation)
  • Latin America has been hit especially hard by the pandemic, according to this piece, making it even more difficult for the region to pursue rapid decarbonization and build climate resilience. (Project Syndicate)
  • The core logic of China’s COVID-19 containment policy has been “zero tolerance,” according to this piece. That’s required massive efforts from nearly every part of society, to do things like complete coronavirus testing for all 11 million residents of Wuhan within 72 hours. (The Diplomat)
  • Sixteen reasons why you should get vaccinated. Among those listed in this piece: by being fully vaccinated your risk of COVID-19 infection is reduced by five times, and your risk of requiring hospitalization if infected is reduced by 10 times. (Harvard Kennedy School)
  • Winter worries. As the change in seasons approaches and people head indoors, experts are concerned more contagious variants of the coronavirus could emerge, according to this piece. The upshot: rules and restrictions will be around indefinitely. (Der Spiegel)

On the Strategic Intelligence platform, you can find feeds of expert analysis related to COVID-19, Vaccination, and hundreds of additional topics. You’ll need to register to view.

Image: World Economic Forum
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