COVID-19 curves: Compare Canada and other key nations
TORONTO -- COVID-19 already ranks among the worst pandemics in modern history, with millions dead and hundreds of millions more infected. It has also precipitated remarkable achievements in science and medicine, and the largest global vaccination campaign in history. Even so, a significant portion of the world remains unvaccinated and many experts believe the pandemic will eventually become endemic in many parts of the world. From the beginning, countries responded differently -- in some cases, quite significantly – and each new wave brought new variables and shifting strategies that altered outcomes in positive and negative ways.
Explore how countries around the world have fared throughout the pandemic -- by case number, fatality, per capita, in raw numbers, and more. Scroll a little further down for more interactive features.
Curious how different countries are faring? You can chart and compare the progression for jurisdictions that have reported more than 100 cases using our interactive graphs below.
An overview of the pandemic's progression -- from early containment measures to where things stand now -- are highlighted in a few, select examples below.
Provinces, territories and global jurisdictions with fewer than 100 cases are not included.
WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (TOP)
The COVID-19 pandemic is arguably the most catastrophic and devastating global event since the Second World War, impacting billions of people across at least 185 countries. The incredible speed with which vaccines were developed and approved offered hope that an end to the pandemic was in sight, but the rise and spread of a number of variants in combination with other factors belied those hopes.
The WHO was informed of several unusual cases of pneumonia in Wuhan on Dec. 31, 2019 and began requesting information from China on the cases. The agency sent a tweet on Jan. 4 and issued a press release on Jan. 5, 2020 regarding 44 cases of pneumonia with an unknown cause in China. By Jan. 30, the international health agency declared the outbreak a "public health event of international concern", amid 18 countries reporting a combined total of 83 cases, with seven involving no travel history to China and three countries reporting human-to-human transmission. According to a WHO spokeswoman, this declaration was meant to prevent a pandemic from happening. The WHO advised all countries to prepare for containment, including early detection, isolation, contact tracing and to share their data with the WHO, but did not make recommendations on travel or trade restrictions at the time.
The novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV was officially named COVID-19 on Feb. 11 as the WHO warned against actions that promoted stigma or discrimination. By Feb. 21, the health agency was warning the international community that the window to contain the COVID-19 outbreak was narrowing, but did not formally start calling it a global pandemic until March 11, 2020.
Six months after the declaration, data compiled by the AFP news agency found that roughly half of the world’s population -- some 3.9 billion -- had experienced some level of lockdown measure. At the official pandemic half-year point, there were nearly 30 million reported cases around the world, and more than 910,000 reported deaths.
Following a drop in cases in many parts of the world over the summer in 2020, a number of regions began experiencing second and third waves that were dramatically worse than the first. The 2020 to 2021 winter was particularly devastating, with worldwide cases roughly tripling between the beginning of October 2020 and the beginning of February 2021 alone. Infections peaked in spring 2021 and then again in late summer, driven primarily by the spread of variants of concern that appear significantly more transmissible, as well as pandemic fatigue.
Despite the grim overall picture, some parts of the world managed to keep the virus at bay for months at a time through aggressive and strict border and containment policies. This resulted in extremely low to zero infections allowing millions of people to lead normal or nearly normal lives with few restrictions. But even the most successful places could not keep COVID-19 away forever, especially when the more easily transmissible Delta variant began making its way around the globe.
Even with COVID-19’s unrelenting endurance and the devastating impact of variants, 2021 was also dominated by the arrival of vaccines and the hope it brought for potentially ending the global pandemic. A slow and inequitable roll-out of vaccines, however, meant wealthy, Western countries were vaccinated significantly sooner and faster, leaving some parts of the world, especially developing countries, completely unprotected.
Even with vaccines, public health policies continued to play a critical role in curbing the virus’ spread. Regions with vaccine access but low vaccination rates or few public health restrictions in place were still generally hit harder by COVID-19.
The country is third only behind the United States and India in total cases and second behind the U.S. in deaths, hitting a grim milestone of more than 600,000 dead by fall 2021. In Brazil’s first four months of the pandemic alone, confirmed cases surpassed one million, with nearly 49,000 people dying. By fall 2020, cases were soaring by roughly million a month; the rate doubled to about two million new infections a month for several months in the first half of 2021, driven in large part by the P.1 or Gamma variant.
Scientists were alarmed by the variant in part because it triggered an outbreak in Manaus even more deadly than the city’s first devastating outbreak a year earlier. The uncontrolled spring 2020 outbreak in the city of 2.2 million eventually infected some 76 per cent of the population. But a study in January 2021 found the Gamma variant was identified in 42 per cent of the samples sequenced from late December raising doubts about natural herd immunity.
Soaring cases drove its health-care system to a “breaking point,” with one medical expert describing it as a “biological Fukushima” to Reuters. At its worst point, daily new infections peaked at more than 100,000 and fatalities peaked at more than 4,200 in a single day.
Throughout the pandemic, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro emphasized keeping the country’s economy running above all else and opposed not only lockdown measures but also mask-wearing. During one of its worst periods, health-care experts described the situation as a “catastrophe.” Bolsonaro and his allies described it as not being “all that critical” and “quite comfortable” compared to other countries. The country finally turned the corner in late June 2021 as vaccinations climbed.
As Canada entered 2022, it brought with it soaring case counts thanks to the Omicron variant. December saw the country’s seven-day average reach records unseen in the two-year-long pandemic, and Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Omicron has “quickly” been displacing Delta as the dominant variant. It resulted in new restrictions in several provinces, impacted the return to school after the holiday break and businesses were forced to drastically reduce capacity or close entirely once again.
Before Omicron, Canada’s fourth wave was its worst with the spread of Delta, which peaked in January 2021 and again in mid-April 2021, when it recorded more than a million cases a little over a year after the WHO formally declared a pandemic. Canada also surpassed 25,000 dead by mid-May, 2021.
But it was during the pandemic’s first wave when long-term care homes, especially in Ontario and Quebec, were ill-prepared and disproportionately hit. More than 80 per cent of the total deaths were attributable to outbreaks at hundreds of these facilities during the first wave.
In the beginning, a combination of lax border screening, poor management at long-term care residences, and other missteps hampered containment efforts. For a long time, the messaging in Canada was that the novel coronavirus outbreak risk for Canadians was low. Public health officials were guided by advice from the WHO, which had initially discouraged travel restrictions, border closures and the wearing of masks, positions that were later criticized and reversed as the spread became increasingly dire in many countries.
The first case in Canada was confirmed on Jan. 25, 2020 in a patient returning from Wuhan, China, while the first case of community transmission was confirmed in early March. Repatriation efforts for Canadians in China began in late January to early February amid frustration among expats over the lack of communication and help for citizens abroad. Provinces and territories enacted states of emergencies across Canada and different regions implementing various levels of restrictions on public gathering sizes when the global pandemic was formally declared in mid-March. Schools closed across the country, along with daycares, and non-essential businesses.
As the tally of cases grew in Canada, it became increasingly clear many of the cases were linked to the United States. The level of movement between the two countries made containment impossible without drastic measures. On March 20, the 8,891-kilometre-long U.S.-Canada border closed to all non-essential travel and would remain closed for an unprecedented 19 and a half months. The Quarantine Act was invoked on March 25, with all in-bound travellers required to self-isolate for two weeks.
Some jurisdictions, like Atlantic Canada and the territories, managed to keep cases relatively low through strict regional public health and travel protocols. But outbreaks in places like Nunavut -- which had managed to evade infections for most of 2020 -- illustrate how quickly circumstances can change as a result of a single case.
The country ranks among the top 15 in terms of total number of cases and deaths, but falls well below the top 50 on a per capita scale. For much of the pandemic, it has followed a similar wave pattern as Canada for infections on a per capita basis.
It received attention early in the pandemic due to its dramatically lower mortality rate compared to other European countries at the time. This was attributed in part to Germany’s much higher testing rate, its ability to ramp testing up more quickly and earlier than many of its EU counterparts, having more ICU beds, and younger people being infected. All that changed during the second wave that hit European countries in the fall and stretched through the winter. The German government imposed a hard lockdown in mid-December 2020 that was extended several times. At its worst peak in January 2021, more than 1,700 deaths were recorded in a single day, with long-term care homes hit hardest. Overall, cases soared from about 300,000 in October 2020 to 4.3 million a year later, while deaths jumped from about 9,600 to over 94,000 over the same one-year period.
Early during the pandemic, the government considered the new disease a "very low threat" and far less dangerous than SARS, making travel warnings unnecessary. But things shifted quickly after the first case was confirmed near the end of January, with Lufthansa, Germany’s flagship airline, suspending all flights to China. Face masks quickly sold out according to media reports, schools and public spaces began closing in some regions of Germany by late February, and tougher screening measures and contact tracing protocols were in place by the end of that month for both inbound land and air travellers. In the days that followed the pandemic declaration, parts of Germany launched drive-through COVID-19 testing and a national curfew was enacted on March 22, which allowed people to leave their home only for essential purposes like work and groceries.
Despite its early successes, the Alpha variant, previously known as the B.1.1.7 variant, spreadrapidly, driving the second and third waves, while the Delta variant fueled the fourth wave. Like Canada, a slow vaccine rollout in the beginning hampered early efforts to mitigate the pandemic. With more than 65 per cent of the population fully vaccinated by fall 2021, parts of Germany began easing much of the remaining public health measures and large public venues began accommodating full seating capacity for those who had been tested, vaccinated, or recovered from COVID-19.
During India’s second wave at a virtual event of the World Economic Forum at Davos in late January 2021, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, said that India “saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively.”
Two months later, the health minister assured that the country was in the pandemic’s “endgame.”
But the narrative quickly changed in the months that followed.
Even though the first case of the Delta variant was detected in India in October 2020, it took months before the curve flattened for India.
It also highlighted some grim points - premature relaxation of COVID-19 measures, negligence of social distancing rules, a failed health system, underreported cases, and limited vaccine supplies that acted as catalysts to the devastating second wave.
In April 2021, along with the U.S., India became the second country to record more than 300,000 new cases in a single day, according to Our World In Data. A month later, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the country accounted for nearly half of all the global infections. The situation in India became most critical in the first week of May 2021 with 120 people losing their lives by the hour.
The accuracy of reported COVID-19 cases in India in 2021 has been up for debate.
The director of the US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated that the magnitude of the pandemic in India is much worse and the country is only detecting 3-4% of actual cases. According to Associated Press, a report published in July last year showed that the pandemic death toll in India could be in millions.
But soon India’s vaccination campaign made somewhat slow yet steady progress.
Last October, the country crossed a milestone of administering 1 billion doses. According to Our World in Data, as of Jan. 3, 2022, 44 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated and more than 60 per cent have received at least one dose. However, the country missed its target to double vaccinate its entire adult population of 940 million by the end of 2021.
Experts believe that India’s third wave of COVID-19 infections could peak in the middle of February of 2022 due to Omicron. India reported its first Omicron case on Dec. 3, 2021. In the light of lower vaccination rates, some experts believe that the new variant could hit the country harder than others.
On Jan. 4, 2022, the country logged its highest tally of 37,379 cases since September 2021, according to government data. The country is ramping up inoculation in children from the age of 15 to 18 years and will start booster shots for those over 60 from Jan. 10, 2022.
Moving forward, stricter restrictions are being imposed in the densely populated cities of Delhi and Mumbai and more can be expected in the coming days. The government has told state governments to remain proactive and analyze the smallest of trends and surges since cases in India have nearly doubled within a week across a dozen states.
Bergamo became the epicentre of the disease’s first destructive wave, with hospital contamination being cited as a key reason by NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery. A year later, a Times investigation revealed that faulty guidance and bureaucratic delays led to the outbreak in the fourth-largest city of Lombardy.
Italy was the first European country to go into a lockdown. But despite the strict implications which included a lockdown, it still became the centre of the worst outbreak outside of China, with deaths doubling every few days at one point. Elderly and immunocompromised people were hit hard, a pattern that would soon become common to the U.S., Canada, and other countries.
But after a rough start into the pandemic, Italy quickly turned a corner by April and June of 2020 and reported fewer than 20 deaths in a day. By mid-May, restrictions were eased and by late July borders were reopened.
The second wave in Italy arrived in the fall of 2020.
According to Our World in Data, the daily confirmed cases rose slowly only to later accelerate in October reaching a peak of 58 per 100,000 by Nov. 13, 2020. In a 2021 report by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat), the excess mortality of 100,526 deaths in 2020 was more than the average of the previous five years. Ital recorded the highest number of deaths since 1945 when it fought World War II on its soil.
Around March 2021, Italy entered its third wave and by June 2021, the Delta strain became the predominant variant in the country. The following month showed a spike in infection rates across the country. In 2021, Italy’s borders were open to most countries, with some restrictions in place.
However, normalcy started to disrupt after the arrival of the fourth wave in November 2021. On Nov. 26, 2021, following the first detection of Omicron in South Africa, Italy banned travel from eight southern African countries. In November, the government classified regions and autonomous provinces in color codes - white (safest), yellow (safer), orange (medium risk), and red (high risk).
During the same time, it imposed ‘super green pass’ Covid restrictions on the unvaccinated. This would mean unvaccinated or unrecovered will be unable to access hotels, gyms, nightclubs, ski lifts, and stadiums, as well as to be served indoors at bars and restaurants under new rules set to take effect from Dec. 6 2022 until at least Jan. 15, 2022. Towards the end of December 2021, Italy’s COVID-19 spike in cases was in line with what the rest of the world was experiencing. As of Jan. 3, 2022, 74 per cent of the population in Italy remains fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.
NEW ZEALAND (TOP)
The first case of COVID-19 in New Zealand was detected on Feb. 28, 2020, which later led to travel restrictions for those arriving from Iran, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand.
After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 14, New Zealanders were urged to return home.
Soon more restrictions on gatherings started to fall into place. These included limiting indoor events with no more than 100 people, closure of public facilities such as libraries, community centres, and museums. However, the closure of schools happened a few days later after cases spiked from 66 to 102. What followed was a national alert, triggering a very restrictive four-week nationwide lockdown. Non-essential services were closed within two days.
The pandemic for New Zealand peaked in April 2020. A month later, the country lifted all its measures except the capacity limits on social gathering and physical distancing. However, after two travelers were tested positive weeks later, the military was put in charge of the border quarantine operations. Following the strict border restrictions, for 102 days the country showed no transmissions through community exposures and the cases hovered between zero and less than five in a day. But a surge in numbers in mid-August in 2020 led to extended lockdowns for another two weeks, with gathering limits in place.
In 2020, New Zealand became the poster child for the rest of the world on how to control the spread of the virus until the new variant of concern, Delta, started making news around the world.
In August 2021, the country entered nationwide lockdown after a case of community transmission of the Delta variant was detected in Auckland. The first death from Delta was reported in September 2021. Auckland, the nation’s largest city, became the epicentre of the Delta outbreak. Auckland remained in lockdown until Dec. 3, 2021.
As of Jan. 4, 2022, 75 per cent of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, according to data available on Our World in Data.
In late November 2021, prime minister Jacinda Ardern introduced the new COVID-19 Protection Framework known as the traffic lights to minimize and provide protection from COVID-19 through 3 settings - green, orange, and red. The color levels in the system are determined by vaccination rates and the level of strain on the health system.
But the enthusiasm has been weighed down by the arrival of Omicron, detected in early December 2021 which is when New Zealand reported its first community exposure to the new variant of concern. According to the data from Our World in Data, 42 per cent of cases belong to the new Omicron variant.
A gradual reopening of international borders was scheduled for Jan. 17, 2022, but the phased reopening was postponed until the end of February over concerns around the new Omicron variant.
UNITED STATES (TOP)
By the end of December 2021, the United States was averaging more than 300,000 new cases a day for the first time in the two-year pandemic. Just days into the new year, the average soared to well beyond 400,000 cases. As of early January, more than 55 million people in the U.S. have had confirmed COVID-19 infections and more than 825,000 of them have died.
The surge is largely driven by the Omicron variant. Despite the alarming spread, the number of Americans in hospital with COVID-19 at the end of 2021 was around 60,000 -- about half the number seen at the beginning of the year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While still too early to definitively state Omicron is milder than Delta, experts say the lower hospitalization numbers might reflect the effectiveness of vaccines and the possibility that Omicron isn’t making people as sick as previous variants.
As of early January, more than 55 million people in the U.S. have had confirmed COVID-19 infections and more than 825,000 of them have died.
The first known case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was diagnosed on Jan. 21, 2020 in Washington State. Toward the end of the month, a White House Coronavirus Task Force was established to “monitor, prevent, contain, and mitigate” the pandemic’s spread. Two days later, on Jan. 31, the government declared a public health emergency and restrictions were placed on travellers arriving from China. A “do not travel” advisory was issued for China on Feb. 2.
On Feb. 26, 2020 the CDC warned Americans to prepare for an outbreak as the first evidence of community spread in the U.S. appeared involving a case in California with an unknown origin. By the end of the month, Washington state declared a state of emergency. Over the course of the next week or so, Florida, New York and other states declared a public health emergency as well.
In March 12, 2020, the CDC recommended against non-essential travel to a number of countries and regions including China, most of Europe, and Iran. Two days later, the U.S. declared a national emergency, while travel restrictions were also imposed for incoming visitors from Europe and elsewhere.
Then, on March 20, 2020, U.S. and Canada closed its international borders -- the longest in the world -- to all non-essential travel between the two countries.
The U.S.’s second surge peaked in mid to late July 2020 when cases hit more than four million. That figure doubled by mid-October to more than eight million, and doubled once more by early-mid December. While the CDC had encouraged mask-wearing in public spaces for months, it only issued a universal mask advisory in December 2020. By late January 2021, more than 25 million Americans had been infected.
What dramatically helped the U.S. turn its situation around was the quick ramp-up in vaccinations beginning in early January 2021, with infections finally declining two weeks later. By early May, the U.S. was reporting less than 40,000 new cases a day, a level not seen since last September. The average daily death toll fell as well to less than 700 -- a figure not seen since July 2020.
But vaccinations slowed down significantly by late April as demand waned across almost all states. A pause in the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to blood clot concerns was a partial factor, some experts said. In a bid to incentivize those who have yet to get a vaccine, some businesses and governments began offering freebies and major “prizes” like Ohio’s plan to give away millions of dollars and full-ride scholarships through lotteries.
With more than a third of the population fully vaccinated and more than 45 percent having had at least one dose, the CDC also issued new mask guidelines in May that many hope marks the ‘final stretch” of the pandemic in the U.S. Days earlier, on May 7, 2021, the agency had also formally acknowledged airborne transmissions of the virus. The new mask advisory states that fully vaccinated individuals need not wear a mask or physically distance in most places, prompting debate that the move was too soon, sent the wrong message, and relied too much on the “honour system."
SOUTH KOREA (TOP)
South Korea initiated containment measures almost immediately after China reported the unknown pneumonia cases to the World Health Organization - days before the global health agency issued a press release on Jan. 5, 2020. Quarantine and screening measures were put in place for all travellers coming from Wuhan, China as health authorities beefed up national surveillance of pneumonia cases in hospitals.
The first case was identified just weeks later, on Jan. 20, caught during heightened airport checks through thermal screening during entry at Incheon International Airport. That same day, the country’s infectious disease alert was raised to yellow (level 2) from blue. The government issued travel recommendations and advisories for travellers to China.
Health officials quickly and aggressively ramped up their testing capacity, contact tracing, tracking, and quarantine measures in a national, co-ordinated, and detailed fashion, allowing for early mass testing, long before a pandemic was declared.
Nevertheless, the number of confirmed cases jumped by Feb. 20, 2020, attributed to “Patient 31” identified two days earlier. “Patient 31” had participated in a large church gathering in Daegu and was the source of a major outbreak. All citizens in the city of Daegu were asked to self-isolate for two weeks and those with symptoms had to get tested. Tens of thousands of members of the Sincheonji Church of Jesus, a main cluster and exposure point by “Patient 31”, were tested.
Drive-through testing sites were established quickly, offering citizens an efficient way of getting tested while minimizing exposure to others, with results sent via text within three days.
Around this time, the government also announced plans to designate certain hospitals as national infectious disease hospitals with orders to transfer all existing patients to other health-care facilities by Feb 28. South Korea’s infectious disease alert was raised to "red" or level 4, the highest threat level.
By mid-March, inbound travellers (both citizens and foreigners) from Japan, Italy, Iran, and within days – the rest of Europe - had to undergo special immigration screening, including installing a self-diagnosis mobile app. Travellers were advised to minimize their movement and required to submit a daily self-check for 14 days. Authorities followed-up in person if anyone failed to comply.
Government declared several cities including Daegu "special disaster zones" and mass testing of everyone at high-risk facilities in Daegu was conducted. Days later, the government advised South Koreans to cancel all non-urgent international travel, and like many other countries, all travellers entering Korea, regardless of citizenship, must fill a health questionnaire, provide verifiable contact information, and install the self-diagnosis mobile app. Travellers arriving from Europe were automatically tested. By March 25, all travellers arriving from the U.S. were also tested at the airport.
South Korea never enacted strict nationwide lockdown measures like many other countries and its economy never really shut down, though gathering restrictions were placed for high-risk locations like churches, entertainment and sports facilities, and schools remained closed for much longer. Infected people are isolated and those who come in contact with them are put into quarantine. The public was also encouraged to practise physical distancing and stay home as much as possible, aside from work and buying essentials, in the early days of the pandemic and during case spikes like the one in August. But with case numbers relatively low, daily life has been more normal than many other parts of the world. Much of the country otherwise operated and continues to operate under relatively minimal restrictions, though mask-wearing is extremely common everywhere.