One year ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The microscopic coronavirus has, in one way or another, changed the lives of all 7.8 billion people on Earth.
While the long-term impact of this global health crisis may take years to understand, its immediate effect has already changed the world as we know it. In the following infographics, we break down the latest figures and reports to help you understand the pandemic’s global repercussions.
For each topic, we looked at the most complete and reliable datasets available on a global level. The numbers are often presented as averages across a country, so it is important to remember that averages may mask inequalities, especially when dealing with underreported areas or populations at risk.
Leading causes of death
At least 2.7 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19. While the leading global causes of death for 2020 have not been published yet, compared to 2019, COVID ranks among the top five biggest killers.
In 2019, 55.4 million people died across the globe. Heart disease killed the most people (8.9 million) followed by strokes (6.2 million) and lung disease (3.2 million). Collectively these are known as non-communicable diseases, meaning they are not transmitted between people. In contrast, the highly contagious coronavirus is a communicable disease.
The graphic below shows how one year of coronavirus deaths compares to the leading causes of death in 2019.
In the US, the country with the highest number of COVID-19 deaths, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the coronavirus has killed more Americans in one year (540,000) than the flu has in the last 10 years combined (368,000).
The WHO estimates that nearly one billion people worldwide are living with a mental disorder. In 2019, 703,000 people took their own lives, making suicide the 17th-most common cause of death. Despite that, countries spend only about 2 percent of their national health budgets on mental health.
The UN has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely cause a long-term increase in the number and severity of mental health problems. The evidence regarding the mental health consequences of lockdowns and social distancing is still being studied. While we have no large-scale data on the effect COVID-19 has had on mental health globally, several smaller studies (PDF) indicate higher rates of anxiety and depression.
Below are five tips by Dr Devora Kestel, director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the WHO, on protecting our mental health.
By definition, a pandemic is a worldwide spread of a disease. It is estimated that more than two-thirds of the world population has experienced lockdown measures, lasting from weeks to months.
According to data compiled by the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, more than 100 countries and territories in 2021 have reintroduced stay-at-home orders with some exceptions such as for essential trips, daily exercise or grocery shopping.
The graphic below summarises the duration of nationwide lockdowns over 12 months (January 16, 2020 – January 15, 2021).
According to World Bank estimates, the global economy shrank by 4.3 percent in 2020, wiping out trillions of dollars. Countries already facing economic hardship sank further into debt. A report by Oxfam International (PDF) estimates that it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic.
On the upside, the World Bank expects the global economy to expand by 4 percent in 2021 with vaccine rollouts and investments leading the recovery.
The graphic below shows the effect COVID-19 had on the global economy. Every major economy except for China’s shrank over the course of 2020. Other countries that saw their gross domestic product (GDP) grow include Bangladesh (2 percent), Benin (2 percent), Burundi (0.3 percent), Egypt (3.6 percent), Ethiopia (6.1 percent), Ghana (1.1 percent), Guinea (5.2 percent), Guyana (23.2 percent), Ivory Coast (1.8 percent), Myanmar (1.7 percent), Nepal (0.2 percent), Niger (1 percent), South Sudan (9.3 percent), Tajikistan (2.2 percent), Tanzania (2.5 percent), Turkey (0.5 percent), Uzbekistan (0.6 percent) and Vietnam (2.8 percent).
This by no means suggests that these countries were better off after the coronavirus, several of them were projected to achieve even higher growth before the pandemic with otheried relying on lending to prop up their economies.
Global poverty and unemployment
The coronavirus has disproportionately affected the poor. For the first time in 20 years, global poverty is likely to increase significantly. The World Bank estimates the coronavirus has pushed between 119 and 124 million people into extreme poverty, making the total number of people living on less than $1.90 a day to 730 million, about 10 percent of the world’s population.
In 2020, 114 million people lost their jobs, according to the latest unemployment figures from the International Labour Organization (ILO). But official figures alone is not enough to measure joblessness. As the ILO points out, many more workers have fallen into “economic inactivity”, meaning they had to withdraw from the labour force. Many more may still be employed but operating with reduced working hours or pay cuts.
Women and younger workers have been among the hardest hit, prompting concerns over widening gender inequality and a lost generation of workers.
In addition, the UN Development Programme has warned that nearly half of all jobs in Africa could be wiped out due to the pandemic.
The rich got richer
A report (PDF) released by Oxfam International, a UK-based charity, said the pandemic hurt people living in poverty more than the rich. The most severely affected are women, Black people, African-descendants, Indigenous peoples, and historically marginalised and oppressed communities around the world, the report said.
To put that income inequality in perspective, a report (PDF) by Swiss Bank UBS, found that the world’s richest people got $3.9 trillion richer between March and December 2020. The 10 richest billionaires made $540bn during this time.
Many of the world’s richest men, including Elon Musk (US), Zhong Shanshan (China) and Mukesh Ambani (India), saw their wealth more than double since the pandemic was declared.
1.7 billion students out of school
In 2020, school and university closures disrupted the education of more than 1.7 billion students from 188 countries, or about 99 percent of the world’s student population, according to UNESCO.
Today, nearly 900 million students, more than half the world’s student population, continue to face heavy education disruptions, ranging from school closures in 29 countries to reduced or part-time classes in 68 others, according to the latest data from UNESCO.
While online schooling played allowed classes to continue virtually, the UN estimates that nearly 500 million children, especially in poorer countries or rural areas, have been excluded from remote learning due to a lack of technology or policies.
Oxfam estimates that the pandemic will reverse the last 20 years of global progress on girls’ education, further increasing poverty and inequality.
Worst year for air travel
In 2019, more than 4.5 billion passengers took 38 million flights worldwide. With lockdowns and quarantines for most of 2020, many cancelled or postponed travel plans.
International passenger demand in 2020 dropped by 75.6 percent compared to 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Global flight-tracking service Flightradar24 also recorded a 42-percent dip in commercial flights from 2019. Many airlines were forced to operate cargo-only flights to keep supermarket shelves stocked and online orders fulfilled.
Lockdowns from space
On the left are images taken pre-lockdown, contrasted with lockdown images taken in March 2020 to show the pandemic’s effect had on cities worldwide. Unprecedented lockdowns emptied streets, disrupted travel and slowed economic activity – temporarily slashing air pollution.
Below we see how Mecca, Wuhan and Venice all saw a sharp decline in visitors a few weeks into the pandemic. See satellite images from more cities here.
In the first weeks of COVID lockdowns, there were reports of clearer and less polluted skies. For example, residents of Venice, Italy, reported clear running water in its normally bustling canals for the first time in years.
However, this seems to have been short-lived. A recent report by the International Energy Agency found that while global energy-related CO2 emissions fell overall by 5.8 percent in 2020 – the largest annual percentage decline since World War II – the latest data shows global CO2 pollution bounced back to pre-COVID levels.
Professor Ralph Keeling, head of the Scripps CO2 programme, explained the situation back in May 2020: “People might be surprised to hear that the response to the coronavirus outbreak has not done more to influence CO2 levels. The build-up of CO2 is a bit like trash in a landfill. As we keep emitting, it keeps piling up.”