Coronavirus: a timeline of the key events

From the first confirmed infections to more than 233,000 deaths worldwide

coronavirus test
(Image credit: GEORGES GOBET/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK is on course to record the highest coronavirus death toll in all of Europe, according to the latest figures.

A total of 26,097 people have so far died after testing positive for the coronavirus. The new figures mean that the UK is second only to Italy, which has recorded 27,682 total deaths.

As the UK threatens to become Europe’s worst affected nation, here are all the key dates and events in the ongoing global crisis:

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17 November

The first person to contract Covid-19 coronavirus is believed to have been infected at a market where live animals were sold in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in the central province of Hubei. The first diagnosed human infection can be traced back to 17 November, according to Chinese government data seen by the South China Morning Post.

ABC News reports that “as far back as late November”, US intelligence reports warned that a “contagion was sweeping through China’s Wuhan region, changing the patterns of life and business and posing a threat to the population”.

1 December

The earliest traceable and confirmed case of coronavirus begins experiencing symptoms. The patient had not been to the site at the epicentre of the outbreak, Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, and no link has yet been found between this case and those that were to follow, Live Science reports.

31 December

The Chinese authorities alert WHO about a string of “cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology [unknown cause] detected in Wuhan”.

British citizens are subsequently repatriated from Wuhan to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and then transported to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral, where they are quarantined and monitored for 14 days.

As BBC health editor Hugh Pym later notes, “tackling the coronavirus threat has taken the government into uncharted territory. Quarantining hundreds of British citizens for two weeks has never been done on this scale in modern times.”

8 January

Scientists in China investigating the mysterious new pneumonia-like illness announce that they have discovered a new strain of coronavirus.

Reporting the development, The Wall Street Journal says: “The disease afflicting patients in Wuhan hasn’t been transmitted from human to human, and healthcare workers have remained uninfected, according to city health officials as of Sunday, suggesting that what is sickening them is for now less virulent than Sars.”

11 January

Chinese health authorities report the first fatality from the new coronavirus, with the patient identified as a 61-year-old man from Wuhan who had “severe” underlying health issues.

20 January

China confirms that human-to-human transmission of the virus is possible. Meanwhile, South Korea announces the first coronavirus case outside of China, and infections are also reported in Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore.

24 January

Health Secretary Matt Hancock chairs the first meeting of the UK government’s Cobra emergency committee over the coronavirus threat, but later insists that the risk to the UK is “low”, reports the Daily Mirror.

In China, cinemas, tourist spots and other public places are shut in a bid to curb the spread. Beijing and Shanghai authorities “urge residents returning from coronavirus outbreak areas to stay at home for 14 days to prevent its spread”, says The Straits Times.

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30 January

WHO declares the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern”, a formal declaration of an “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”.

“The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries,” said WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

WHO says there have been 98 cases in 18 other countries, but no deaths.

31 January

The first cases of the new coronavirus are confirmed in the UK. Two members of the same family test positive, while all new arrivals to the UK from Wuhan are taken into mandatory quarantine.

The US declares a public health emergency over coronavirus, and closes its borders to all foreign nationals “who pose a threat of transmitting the virus from entering the country”.

11 February

WHO names the disease that can result from the new coronavirus Covid-19.

28 February

A passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan becomes the first British person to die from the virus.

Meanwhile, WHO raises its global risk assessment of the new coronavirus to its highest level after the epidemic reaches sub-Saharan Africa and causes financial markets to plummet, reports the Straits Times.

5 March

The first person to die of the new coronavirus in the UK is a woman in her 70s at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

The prime minister’s official spokesman says it is “highly likely the virus is going to spread in a significant way”.

“We’ve moved to a situation where people have minimal symptoms and they can self-isolate. It’s safer for them to self-isolate in their own homes, with support,” said England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty. “Anybody who needs hospitalisation will be hospitalised.”

11 March

Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief, says the world is now in the grip of a coronavirus “pandemic”.

The WHO had been criticised for its reticence in declaring the outbreak a pandemic. Ghebreyesus said: “It doesn’t change what countries should do… We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear,” he said.

Donald Trump announces a ban on travellers from Europe, except the UK and Ireland. On 14 March, he extends the ban to cover the UK and Ireland.

17 March

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils a £330bn package to help businesses furlough staff.

Addressing the press, Sunak said the UK has “never in peacetime faced an emergency like this”, adding that he would abandon “orthodoxy” and “ideology” in response.

20 March

Schools, nurseries, pubs and restaurants around the UK are ordered to close.

The coronavirus spike is “increasing at a faster pace than anticipated”, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said. “I’ve said before that if the science and the advice changed, such that keeping schools open would no longer be in the interests of children and teachers, that we would act.”

23 March

Boris Johnson issues an order for an unprecedented national lockdown, telling the British people: “You must stay at home.”

Describing this as a “moment of national emergency”, Johnson said people may only leave home to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where “absolutely necessary”, to shop for essential items and to fulfil any medical or care needs.

28 March

The death toll from the new coronavirus passes 1,000 in the UK. Amged El-Hawrani, a 55-year-old consultant, becomes the first member of NHS staff to die from Covid-19.

3 April

The number of cases of coronavirus worldwide passes the one million mark, with the global total doubling in a week.

Despite the frightening spread of the infectious disease caused by the new coronavirus, the Office for National Statistics found that Covid-19 accounted for just 1% of the UK’s total deaths in the week ending 20 March.

5 April

The Queen broadcasts a message to the nation, saying the UK “will succeed” in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The prime minister is admitted to hospital with ongoing coronavirus symptoms. It is announced the next day that he has been moved to intensive care.

6 April

Johnson moved to the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London as his symptoms worsened. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab assumes Johnson’s duties.

7 April

Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, says that UK figures are not accelerating as had been predicted. But he adds that it is too early to tell whether the outbreak is peaking.

11 April

Home Secretary Priti Patel says she is “sorry if people feel there have been failings” in providing kit, following complaints from frontline medical staff over a shortage of PPE.

12 April

Johnson is discharged from hospital and heads to Chequers to further recuperate.

19 April

Number of recorded deaths rises by 596 to 16,060. Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England, says the lower number of deaths was “very good news”, but cautions against drawing conclusions from the figures.

28 April

Kawasaki Syndrome is first reported in children in the UK.

29 April

The number of people who have died with coronavirus in the UK passes 26,000, as official figures include deaths in the community, such as in care homes, for the first time.

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