COVID-19: How the virus spread across the globe

Posted at 6:51 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 19:57:21-04

Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions here.

It's easy to spot the effects of a pandemic, defined as an outbreak over a wide geographic area affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population, after it is well underway.

What's not easy is determining exactly where COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus, originated.

Scientists believe that the virus originated in humans from a live seafood market in the central China city of Wuhan. Through genetic sequencing, scientists initially identified the culprit as a bat coronavirus, according to reporting from the Washington Post.

The Post also reports that bats were not sold at that market, although other animals sold could have had contact with the virus, and a January study refutes the connection to an animal market altogether.

According to reporting from the Wall Street Journal, Wuhan is a connected manufacturing powerhouse sometimes compared to Chicago or Pittsburgh. The city has more than 30 direct flights to international destinations and high speed rail in every direction.

China as a whole has become increasingly mobile in the 17 years since the 2003 SARS outbreak. The country's high speed rail system stretches nearly 22,000 miles, the longest of its kind in the world.

For air travel, China has rapidly built more than 200 airports servicing nearly 30 Chinese airlines with routes that cross the globe.

For example, Wuhan opened its first major airport in 1995 and today handles 24.5 million passengers per year. International flights to more than 30 cities began five years later, the most popular of which are to nearby Thailand and Japan. Those countries reported some of the first virus cases outside of China.

The connected hub Wuhan has become today is a far cry from the city of the mid-20th century, as the country didn't have a single highway until 1989. Today, the 750-mile trip from Wuhan to China's capital Beijing takes 12 hours by expressway.

Also worth nothing: before the Chinese government locked down Wuhan, an estimated 5 million people had already left the city.

Currently, there are more than 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 85,000 reported deaths.