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Timeline of key events in the spread of the new coronavirus

Pope Francis, white figure standing alone at center, delivers an Urbi et orbi prayer from the empty St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Friday, March 27, 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vatican on Friday announced that Francis will celebrate Mass for Palm Sunday, on April 5, Holy Thursday, on April 9 and Easter vigil and Easter Sunday on the weekend of April 11-12, all at the basilica's central altar. (Alessandra Tarantino / AP)
Associated Press

The coronavirus raced around the world in only a couple of months

JAN. 3: The number of cases of a new type of viral pneumonia in central China rises to 44 in an outbreak that awakens fearful memories of the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic. Most of the cases are traced to the South China Seafood City market in the suburbs of sprawling Wuhan, where offerings are reported to include wild animals.

JAN 9: Chinese state media report that a preliminary investigation of viral pneumonia in the city of Wuhan has identified a new type of coronavirus. Local authorities report 59 people with the illness.

JAN. 11: Health authorities in Wuhan report the country’s first death from the new coronavirus.

JAN. 20: The head of a Chinese government team says human-to-human transmission has been confirmed in an outbreak of the coronavirus, a development that raises the possibility that it could spread more quickly and widely.

JAN. 21: Face masks sell out and air and rail passengers are checked for fever as China seeks to control the outbreak, which has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. The U.S. reports its first case – a Washington state resident who recently returned from the outbreak’s epicenter and was hospitalized near Seattle.

JAN. 22: Chinese state media report that the city of Wuhan has shut down outbound flights and trains as new virus keeps spreading.

JAN. 23: The World Health Organization says the viral illness in China that has sickened hundreds of people is not yet a global health emergency. The decision comes after Chinese authorities moved to lock down three cities and canceled major events in the capital, Beijing, during the Lunar New Year holiday period to try to contain the virus.

JAN. 24: China reports that the number of virus cases has increased to 1,287, and the death toll risen to 41.

JAN. 26: The U.S. confirms five cases of the new virus, all among people who traveled to the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak.

JAN. 28: U.S. health officials expand screenings of international travelers and take other precautions. But they insist the risk to Americans is low. “At this point, Americans should not worry for their own safety,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar tells reporters.

JAN. 29: The 195 Americans evacuated from the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak undergo three days of testing and monitoring at a California military base to ensure they do not show signs of the illness.

JAN. 30: The World Health Organization declares the outbreak a global emergency after the number of cases spikes more than tenfold in a week. U.S. President Donald Trump offers some of his most extensive comments on the virus to date during an appearance at a Michigan manufacturing plant. “Hopefully, it won’t be as bad as some people think it could be, but we’re working very closely with them (China) and with a lot of other people and a lot of other countries,“ he said. “We think we have it very well under control.” Trump described the handful of U.S. cases as a “very little problem” and said those people were “recuperating successfully.”

“We think it’s going to have a very good ending for us. That I can assure you,” he said.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross suggests in an interview that the outbreak might offer an unexpected benefit for the U.S. economy by encouraging American manufacturers in China to return to the United States.

JAN. 31: United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines suspend all flights to and from China as the virus spreads. The United States declares a public health emergency and takes drastic steps to restrict entry. Trump signs an order that will temporarily bar foreign nationals, other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China within the last 14 days.

FEB. 4: German health officials raise questions about a report that suggests the new virus could be spread by people who are not yet showing symptoms. The report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, stirs concern that controlling the virus will be more daunting if it is spreading before people know they are sick. A Japanese official says at least 10 people on cruise ship have new virus and all 3,700 people on it will be quarantined.

FEB. 6: A Chinese doctor who got in trouble with authorities in the communist country for sounding an early warning about the coronavirus outbreak dies after coming down with the illness. Dr. Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, was reprimanded by local police for “spreading rumors” about the illness in late December.

FEB. 11: The disease caused by the virus gets an official name: COVID-19. The World Health Organization says it wanted a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people but was “pronounceable and related to the disease.“

FEB. 12: Japan’s health ministry says 39 new cases of the virus are confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined at a Japanese port. The update brings the total found on the Diamond Princess to 174 cases.

FEB. 15: China reports 143 virus deaths and a dip in new cases. The head of the World Health Organization praises the country’s efforts to contain the new disease, saying Chinese officials have “bought the world time“ and that other nations must make the most of it.

FEB. 19: Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency says the virus has killed two Iranian citizens.

FEB. 21: Italy sees confirmed virus cases more than quadruple due to an emerging cluster in the country’s north.

FEB. 24: Wall Street endures its worst session in two years, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumping more than 1,000 points on fears that the viral outbreak that began in China will weaken the world economy.

FEB. 25: Stocks slump again, driving the S&P 500 down 3%, as fears grow that the virus will slow the global economy. Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, seeks to ease volatile markets by assuring investors that the administration has the virus “contained” and “it was pretty close to airtight.” Kudlow added that coronavirus may be a “human tragedy,” but he predicted it would not be an “economic tragedy.” At one point, when the stock market was plunging, he mentioned the prospect of “buying the dip.”

FEB. 27: President Trump declares that a widespread U.S. outbreak of the virus is not inevitable, even as top health authorities at his side warn Americans that more infections are coming.

FEB. 28: Nigerian authorities confirm the first case of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa as the outbreak spreads to a region with some of the world’s weakest health systems. Trump lashes out at Democrats who question his handling of the virus threat, calling their criticism a “hoax” intended to undermine his leadership.

FEB. 29: As the virus spreads rapidly in central China, the country’s authoritarian government orders the unprecedented lockdown of 60 million people in the hardest-hit province. The shutdown of public transport in some cities, the closing of entertainment venues nationwide and a heavy dose of fear empty the streets of the world’s most populous nation. The virus claims its first victim in the United States, and the number of cases shoot up in Iran, Italy and South Korea.

MARCH 1: Seeking to reassure the American public, President Trump says there is “no reason to panic“ about the virus. The White House also announces that the U.S. is banning travel to Iran and urging Americans not to travel to regions of Italy and South Korea where the virus has been prevalent.

MARCH 3: In a surprise move, the Federal Reserve cuts its benchmark interest rate by a sizable half-percentage point in an effort to support the economy in the face of the spreading coronavirus.

MARCH 4: The Italian government orders all sporting events to take place without fans until April 3 due to the outbreak.

MARCH 5: The Senate passes an $8.3 billion measure to provide federal public health agencies money for vaccines, tests and potential treatments. The package also helps state and local governments respond to the threat. The House already approved the measure. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, cast the sole no vote. He would later become the first senator to test positive for the virus.

MARCH 6: President Trump’s visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention turns into a scattershot defense of his administration’s handling of the outbreak, veering into political score-settling and exaggerations. He calls Washington’s governor a “snake.” He also says he would prefer that people exposed to the virus on a cruise ship be left aboard so they will not be added to the count for the nation’s total number of infections. And he falsely claimed that a test for the virus was available immediately to all who want it.

MARCH 8: Italy’s prime minister announces a sweeping coronavirus quarantine, restricting the movements of about a quarter of the country’s population in a bid to limit contagions at the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak. Shortly after midnight, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signs a decree affecting about 16 million people in the country’s prosperous north, including the Lombardy region, and at least 14 provinces in neighboring regions. The extraordinary measures are to be in place until April 3.

MARCH 11: The province at the center of China’s virus outbreak begins allowing factories and some other businesses to reopen in a show of confidence that Beijing is gaining control over the disease that devastated its economy. Wall Street’s staggering skid pulls the Dow Jones Industrial Average into a bear market. The Dow has now fallen more than 20% from its last peak on Feb. 12. President Trump says the U.S. will suspend all travel from Europe, excluding the United Kingdom, for 30 days.

MARCH 12: The NBA becomes the first major American sports league to suspend play because of the pandemic. The NCAA soon cancels men’s and women’s Division I basketball tournaments. Also, New York’s governor orders all Broadway theaters to shut their doors. President Trump says he is temporarily halting his political rallies.

MARCH 13: Trump declares a national emergency in response to the spread of the virus. The declaration begins the process under which state and tribal governments can seek federal dollars for help responding to the virus. Louisiana becomes first state to postpone its presidential primary because of the pandemic. Visits to inmates at all 122 federal prisons are halted for 30 days.

MARCH 14: Spain locks down its 46 million citizens, and France orders the closing of just about everything the rest of the world loves about it – the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the cafes and restaurants – as governments take increasingly desperate measures to put more space between people and contain the coronavirus. Trump’s doctor says the president has tested negative for the coronavirus.

MARCH 16: The Peace Corps tells volunteers around the world that it is suspending all operations globally and evacuating all volunteers in light of the spread of the virus. The Supreme Court postpones arguments. The Trump administration urges older people and others at increased risk to stay home and keep away from other people. The Dow dives 13%, its worst drop in three decades, as fears deepen that virus will throw global economy into recession.

MARCH 17: The Trump administration says individuals and businesses will be allowed to delay paying their 2019 tax bills for 90 days past the usual April 15 deadline. The extension is an effort to inject up to $300 billion into the economy at a time when the coronavirus appears on the verge of causing a recession. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak orders a monthlong closure of casinos and other nonessential businesses like bars, movie theaters and gyms.

MARCH 18: Trump says he will invoke Defense Production Act to marshal the private sector in response to the pandemic. The Census Bureau announces it is suspending all field operations until early April.

MARCH 19: Italy overtakes China as the country with most coronavirus-related deaths, registering 3,405 dead. The California governor issues statewide order for people to stay at home.

MARCH 20: Stocks close out their worst week since 2008 as economic woes from coronavirus seem sure to deepen; Dow sinks 900 points. Illinois and New York state join California in ordering all residents to stay in their homes unless they have vital reasons to go out, restricting the movement of more than 70 million Americans in the most sweeping measures undertaken yet in the U.S. to contain the virus.

MARCH 22: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tests positive for the coronavirus, becoming the first case of COVID-19 in the Senate and raising fears about the further transmission of the virus among Republicans at the Capitol. Paul, an eye surgeon, went into quarantine after learning his results.

MARCH 23: British Prime Minster Boris Johnson orders closure of most stores, bans gatherings for three weeks to stop coronavirus.

MARCH 24: The International Olympic Committee postpones this summer’s Tokyo Games for a year. In the U.S., the Federal Reserve takes several aggressive steps to support an economy ravaged by the effects of the virus. The amount of money involved is huge and the Fed’s ambitions are vast. It wants to make loans available to companies and governments so they can pay bills and potentially avoid layoffs. The Fed also committed to buy as much government debt and as many mortgage-backed securities as it deems necessary. Meanwhile, Trump eyes loosening virus restrictions, says he hopes to have country “opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”

MARCH 25: Palace announces that heir to the British throne Prince Charles tests positive for coronavirus, has mild symptoms. Senate leaders race to unravel last-minute snags and win passage of an unparalleled $2 trillion economic rescue package that steers aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the pandemic.

AP-WF-03-27-20 1726GMT