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COVID-19 pandemic facts for kids

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COVID-19 pandemic
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Medical professionals treating a COVID-19 patient in critical condition in an intensive care unit in São Paulo in May 2020
COVID-19 Outbreak World Map Total Deaths per Capita.svg
Confirmed deaths per 100,000 population
as of 18 January 2023
Disease Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Virus strain Severe acute respiratory syndrome
coronavirus 2
Location Worldwide
Date First case of COVID-19: November 17, 2019
Public health emergency of international concern: January 30, 2020 – May 5, 2023 (3 years, 3 months and 5 days)
Confirmed cases 774,144,371
7,013,140 (reported)
16.6–28.3 million (estimated)

The COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the coronavirus pandemic, is a global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The novel virus was first identified in an outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. Attempts to contain it there failed, allowing the virus to spread to other areas of Asia and later worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020, and began referring to it as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. As of 23 January 2024, the pandemic had caused 774,144,371 cases and 7,013,140 confirmed deaths, making it one of the deadliest in history.

COVID-19 symptoms range from undetectable to deadly, but most commonly include fever, dry cough, and fatigue. Severe illness is more likely in elderly patients and those with certain underlying medical conditions. COVID-19 transmits when people breathe in air contaminated by droplets and small airborne particles containing the virus. The risk of breathing these in is highest when people are in close proximity, but they can be inhaled over longer distances, particularly indoors. Transmission can also occur if contaminated fluids reach the eyes, nose, or mouth, or, more rarely, through contaminated surfaces. Infected individuals are typically contagious for 10 days and can spread the virus even if they do not develop symptoms. Mutations have produced many strains (variants) with varying degrees of infectivity and virulence.

The COVID-19 vaccines have been approved and widely distributed in various countries since December 2020. According to a June 2022 study, COVID-19 vaccines prevented an additional 14.4 million to 19.8 million deaths in 185 countries and territories from 8 December 2020, to 8 December 2021. Other recommended preventive measures include social distancing, wearing masks, improving ventilation and air filtration, and quarantining those who have been exposed or are infected. Treatments include novel antiviral drugs and symptom control. Public health mitigation measures include travel restrictions, lockdowns, business restrictions and closures, workplace hazard controls, quarantines, testing systems, and contact tracing of the infected, which, together with treatments, serve to bring about the control and eventual end of the pandemic.

The pandemic has triggered severe social and economic disruption around the world, including the largest global recession since the Great Depression. Widespread supply shortages, including food shortages, were caused by supply chain disruptions and panic buying. Reduced human activity led to an unprecedented decrease in pollution. Educational institutions and public areas were partially or fully closed in many jurisdictions, and many events were cancelled or postponed during 2020 and 2021. Misinformation has circulated through social media and mass media, and political tensions have intensified. The pandemic has raised issues of racial and geographic discrimination, health equity, and the balance between public health imperatives and individual rights.

The WHO ended its declaration of COVID-19 being a global health emergency on 5 May 2023, but continued to refer to it as a pandemic. Prior to this, some countries had already transitioned their public health approach towards regarding COVID-19 as an endemic disease.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 4.0
Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 are variable, ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Common symptoms include headache, loss of smell and taste, nasal congestion and runny nose, cough, muscle pain, sore throat, fever, diarrhoea, and breathing difficulties. People with the same infection may have different symptoms, and their symptoms may change over time. Three common clusters of symptoms have been identified: one respiratory symptom cluster with cough, sputum, shortness of breath, and fever; a musculoskeletal symptom cluster with muscle and joint pain, headache, and fatigue; a cluster of digestive symptoms with abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea. In people without prior ear, nose, and throat disorders, loss of taste combined with loss of smell is associated with COVID-19 and is reported in as many as 88% of cases.


The respiratory route when people inhale droplets and small airborne particles (that form an aerosol) that infected people exhale as they breathe, talk, cough, sneeze, or sing. Infected people are more likely to transmit COVID-19 when they are physically close. However, infection can occur over longer distances, particularly indoors.


Coronavirus virion structure
Illustration of SARS-CoV-2 virion

SARS‑CoV‑2 belongs to the broad family of viruses known as coronaviruses. It is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA (+ssRNA) virus, with a single linear RNA segment. Coronaviruses infect humans, other mammals, including livestock and companion animals, and avian species.

Human coronaviruses are capable of causing illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS, fatality rate ≈34%). SARS-CoV-2 is the seventh known coronavirus to infect people, after 229E, NL63, OC43, HKU1, MERS-CoV, and the original SARS-CoV.


A nurse at McMurdo Station sets up the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing equipment, in September 2020.

The standard methods of testing for presence of SARS-CoV-2 are nucleic acid tests, which detects the presence of viral RNA fragments. As these tests detect RNA but not infectious virus, its "ability to determine duration of infectivity of patients is limited." The test is typically done on respiratory samples obtained by a nasopharyngeal swab; however, a nasal swab or sputum sample may also be used. The WHO has published several testing protocols for the disease.


Preventive measures to reduce the chances of infection include getting vaccinated, staying at home or spending more time outdoors, avoiding crowded places, keeping distance from others, wearing a mask in public, ventilating indoor spaces, managing potential exposure durations, washing hands with soap and water often and for at least twenty seconds, practicing good respiratory hygiene, and avoiding touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

Those diagnosed with COVID-19 or who believe they may be infected are advised by the CDC to stay home except to get medical care, call ahead before visiting a healthcare provider, wear a face mask before entering the healthcare provider's office and when in any room or vehicle with another person, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, regularly wash hands with soap and water and avoid sharing personal household items.


Elderly Slovak woman receiving her third Covid-19 vaccine 02
An elderly woman receiving a COVID-19 vaccination in Slovakia

A COVID-19 vaccine is intended to provide acquired immunity against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‑CoV‑2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an established body of knowledge existed about the structure and function of coronaviruses causing diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). This knowledge accelerated the development of various vaccine platforms during early 2020. The initial focus of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines was on preventing symptomatic, often severe illness. On 10 January 2020, the SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence data was shared through GISAID, and by 19 March, the global pharmaceutical industry announced a major commitment to address COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccines are widely credited for their role in reducing the severity and death caused by COVID-19.

As of late-December 2021, more than 4.49 billion people had received one or more doses (8+ billion in total) in over 197 countries. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was the most widely used.

On 8 November 2022, Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine booster was authorized for use in adults in the United Kingdom. On 12 November 2022, the WHO released its Global Vaccine Market Report. The report indicated that "inequitable distribution is not unique to COVID-19 vaccines"; countries that are not economically strong struggle to obtain vaccines.

On 14 November 2022, the first inhalable vaccine was introduced, developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics, in the city of Shanghai, China.


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A critically ill patient receiving invasive ventilation in the intensive care unit of the Heart Institute, University of São Paulo in July 2020. Due to a shortage of mechanical ventilators, a bridge ventilator is being used to automatically actuate a bag valve mask.

For the first two years of the pandemic, no specific and effective treatment or cure was available. In 2021, the European Medicines Agency's (EMA) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) approved the oral antiviral protease inhibitor, Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir plus AIDS drug ritonavir), to treat adult patients. FDA later gave it an EUA.

Most cases of COVID-19 are mild. In these, supportive care includes medication such as paracetamol or NSAIDs to relieve symptoms (fever, body aches, cough), adequate intake of oral fluids and rest. Good personal hygiene and a healthy diet are also recommended.

Supportive care includes treatment to relieve symptoms, fluid therapy, oxygen support and prone positioning, and medications or devices to support other affected vital organs. More severe cases may need treatment in hospital. In those with low oxygen levels, use of the glucocorticoid dexamethasone is recommended, to reduce mortality. Noninvasive ventilation and, ultimately, admission to an intensive care unit for mechanical ventilation may be required to support breathing. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) has been used to address the issue of respiratory failure.

Existing drugs such as hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir, ivermectin and so-called early treatment are not recommended by US or European health authorities, as there is no good evidence they have any useful effect. The antiviral remdesivir is available in the US, Canada, Australia, and several other countries, with varying restrictions; however, it is not recommended for use with mechanical ventilation, and is discouraged altogether by the World Health Organization (WHO), due to limited evidence of its efficacy.


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Donated medical supplies received in the Philippines.

The pandemic shook the world's economy, with especially severe economic damage in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. A consensus report by American intelligence agencies in April 2021 concluded, "Efforts to contain and manage the virus have reinforced nationalist trends globally, as some states turned inward to protect their citizens and sometimes cast blame on marginalized groups." COVID-19 inflamed partisanship and polarisation around the world as bitter arguments exploded over how to respond. International trade was disrupted amid the formation of no-entry enclaves.

Travel restrictions

The pandemic led many countries and regions to impose quarantines, entry bans, or other restrictions, either for citizens, recent travellers to affected areas, or for all travellers. Travel collapsed worldwide, damaging the travel sector. The effectiveness of travel restrictions was questioned as the virus spread across the world. One study found that travel restrictions only modestly affected the initial spread, unless combined with other infection prevention and control measures. Researchers concluded that "travel restrictions are most useful in the early and late phase of an epidemic" and "restrictions of travel from Wuhan unfortunately came too late". The European Union rejected the idea of suspending the Schengen free travel zone.


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Deceased in a refrigerated "mobile morgue" outside a hospital in Hackensack, New Jersey, U.S., in April 2020.
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Gravediggers bury the body of a man suspected of having died of COVID-19 in the cemetery of Vila Alpina, east side of São Paulo, in April 2020.

As of 7 May 2020, more than 269,000 deaths had been attributed to COVID-19. The first confirmed death was in Wuhan on 9 January 2020. These numbers vary by region and over time, influenced by testing volume, healthcare system quality, treatment options, government response, time since the initial outbreak, and population characteristics, such as age, sex, and overall health.

Multiple measures are used to quantify mortality. Official death counts typically include people who died after testing positive. Such counts exclude deaths without a test. Conversely, deaths of people who died from underlying conditions following a positive test may be included. Countries such as Belgium include deaths from suspected cases, including those without a test, thereby increasing counts.

Official death counts have been claimed to underreport the actual death toll, because excess mortality (the number of deaths in a period compared to a long-term average) data show an increase in deaths that is not explained by COVID-19 deaths alone. Using such data, estimates of the true number of deaths from COVID-19 worldwide have included a range from 16.5 to 26.8 million (≈20.2 million) by 3 February 2023 by The Economist, as well as over 18.5 million by 1 April 2023 by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and ≈18.2 million (earlier) deaths between 1 January 2020, and 31 December 2021, by a comprehensive international study. Such deaths include deaths due to healthcare capacity constraints and priorities, as well as reluctance to seek care (to avoid possible infection). Further research may help distinguish the proportions directly caused by COVID-19 from those caused by indirect consequences of the pandemic.

In May 2022, the WHO estimated the number of excess deaths by the end of 2021 to be 14.9 million compared to 5.4 million reported COVID-19 deaths, with the majority of the unreported 9.5 million deaths believed to be direct deaths due the virus, rather than indirect deaths. Some deaths were because people with other conditions could not access medical services.

A December 2022 WHO study estimated excess deaths from the pandemic during 2020 and 2021, again concluding ≈14.8 million excess early deaths occurred, reaffirming and detailing their prior calculations from May as well as updating them, addressing criticisms. These numbers do not include measures like years of potential life lost and may make the pandemic 2021's leading cause of death.

The time between symptom onset and death ranges from 6 to 41 days, typically about 14 days. Mortality rates increase as a function of age. People at the greatest mortality risk are the elderly and those with underlying conditions.


A stock index chart shows the 2020 stock market crash.

The pandemic and responses to it damaged the global economy. On 27 February 2020, worries about the outbreak crushed US stock indexes, which posted their sharpest falls since 2008.

Tourism collapsed due to travel restrictions, closing of public places including travel attractions, and advice of governments against travel. Airlines cancelled flights, while British regional airline Flybe collapsed. The cruise line industry was hard hit, and train stations and ferry ports closed. International mail stopped or was delayed.

The retail sector faced reductions in store hours or closures. Retailers in Europe and Latin America faced traffic declines of 40 per cent. North America and Middle East retailers saw a 50–60 per cent drop. Shopping centres faced a 33–43 per cent drop in foot traffic in March compared to February. Mall operators around the world coped by increasing sanitation, installing thermal scanners to check the temperature of shoppers, and cancelling events.

Hundreds of millions of jobs were lost. including more than 40 million Americans. According to a report by Yelp, about 60% of US businesses that closed will stay shut permanently. The International Labour Organization (ILO) reported that the income generated in the first nine months of 2020 from work across the world dropped by 10.7 per cent, or $3.5 trillion.

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COVID-19 fears led to panic buying of essentials across the world, including toilet paper, instant noodles, bread, rice, vegetables, disinfectant, and rubbing alcohol (picture taken in February 2020).

The outbreak was blamed for panic buying, emptying groceries of essentials such as food, toilet paper, and bottled water. Panic buying stemmed from perceived threat, perceived scarcity, fear of the unknown, coping behaviour and social psychological factors (e.g. social influence and trust).

Supply shortages were due to disruption to factory and logistic operations; shortages were worsened by supply chain disruptions from factory and port shutdowns, and labour shortages.

Shortages continued as managers underestimated the speed of economic recovery after the initial economic crash. The technology industry, in particular, warned of delays from underestimates of semiconductor demand for vehicles and other products.

According to WHO's Adhanom, demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) rose one hundredfold, pushing prices up twentyfold. PPE stocks were exhausted everywhere.

In September 2021, the World Bank reported that food prices remain generally stable and the supply outlook remains positive. However, the poorest countries witnessed a sharp increase in food prices, reaching the highest level since the pandemic began. The Agricultural Commodity Price Index stabilized in the third quarter but remained 17% higher than in January 2021.

By contrast, petroleum products were in surplus at the beginning of the pandemic, as demand for gasoline and other products collapsed due to reduced commuting and other trips. The 2021 global energy crisis was driven by a global surge in demand as the world economy recovered. Energy demand was particularly strong in Asia.


Religious service live-streaming during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic
An American Catholic military chaplain prepares for a live-streamed Mass in an empty chapel at Offutt Air Force Base in March 2020.

The performing arts and cultural heritage sectors have been profoundly affected by the pandemic, impacting organisations' operations as well as individuals – both employed and independent – globally. By March 2020, across the world and to varying degrees, museums, libraries, performance venues, and other cultural institutions had been indefinitely closed with their exhibitions, events and performances cancelled or postponed. A UNESCO report estimated ten million job losses worldwide in the culture and creative industries. Some services continued through digital platforms, such as live streaming concerts or web-based arts festivals.


The pandemic affected political systems, causing suspensions of legislative activities, isolations or deaths of politicians, and rescheduled elections. Although they developed broad support among epidemiologists, NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions) were controversial in many countries. Intellectual opposition came primarily from other fields, along with heterodox epidemiologists.

On 23 March 2020, United Nations Secretary-General António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres appealed for a global ceasefire; 172 UN member states and observers signed a non-binding supporting statement in June, and the UN Security Council passed a resolution supporting it in July.


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Images from the NASA Earth Observatory show a stark drop in pollution in Wuhan, when comparing NO2 levels in early 2019 (top) and early 2020 (bottom).

The pandemic and the reaction to it positively affected the environment and climate as a result of reduced human activity. During the "anthropause", fossil fuel use decreased, resource consumption declined, and waste disposal improved, generating less pollution. Planned air travel and vehicle transportation declined. In China, lockdowns and other measures resulted in a 26% decrease in coal consumption, and a 50% reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions.

A wide variety of largely mammalian species, both captive and wild, have been shown to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, with some encountering particularly fatal outcomes. In particular, both farmed and wild mink have developed symptomatic COVID-19 infections, leading to a 35–55% mortality rate in one study. Other animals, such as white-tailed deer, have not exhibited as high mortality numbers but have effectively become natural reservoirs of the virus, with large numbers of free-ranging deer infected throughout the US and Canada, including approximately 80% of Iowa's wild deer herd.

Discrimination and prejudice

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A socially distanced homeless encampment in San Francisco, California, in May 2020

Heightened prejudice, xenophobia, and racism toward people of Chinese and East Asian descent were documented around the world. Reports from February 2020 (when most confirmed cases were confined to China) cited racist sentiments about Chinese people 'deserving' the virus. Chinese people and other Asian peoples in the United Kingdom and United States reported increasing levels of abuse and assaults. U.S. President Donald Trump was criticised for referring to SARS-CoV-2 as the "Chinese Virus" and "Kung Flu", which were condemned as being racist and xenophobic.

Age-based discrimination against older adults increased. This was attributed to their perceived vulnerability and subsequent physical and social isolation measures, which, coupled with their reduced social activity, increased dependency on others. Similarly, limited digital literacy left the elderly more vulnerable to isolation, depression, and loneliness.

Correspondence published in The Lancet on 20 November 2021, suggested the "inappropriate stigmatisation of unvaccinated people, who include our patients, colleagues, and other fellow citizens", noting vaccinated individuals' high rates of infection, high viral loads, and therefore their relevant role in transmission.

In January 2022, Amnesty International urged Italy to change their anti-COVID-19 restrictions to avoid discrimination against unvaccinated people, saying that "the government must continue to ensure that the entire population can enjoy its fundamental rights." The restrictions included mandatory vaccination over the age of 50, and mandatory vaccination to use public transport.

Lifestyle changes

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The "Wee Annie" statue in Gourock, Scotland, was given a face mask during the pandemic.

The pandemic triggered massive changes in behaviour, from increased Internet commerce to cultural changes in the job market. Online retailers in the US posted US$791.70 billion in sales in 2020, an increase of 32.4% from $598.02 billion from the year before. Home delivery orders increased, while indoor restaurant dining shut down due to lockdown orders or low sales. Hackers, cybercriminals, and scammers took advantage of the changes to launch new attacks. Education in some countries temporarily shifted from physical attendance to video conferencing. Massive layoffs shrank the airline, travel, hospitality, and other industries. Despite most corporations implementing measures to address COVID-19 in the workplace, a poll from Catalyst found that as many as 68% of employees around the world felt that these policies were only performative and "not genuine".

Culture and society

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on popular culture. It has been included in the narratives of ongoing pre-pandemic television series and become a central narrative in some new ones, with mixed results. Writing about the then-upcoming BBC sitcom Pandemonium on 16 December 2020, The New York Times asked, "Are we ready to laugh about Covid-19? Or rather, is there anything amusing, or recognizable in a humorous way, about life during a plague, with all of its indignities and setbacks, not to mention its rituals and rules."

Numerous films and television series have referenced or based their narrative around the pandemic, including:

  • South Park: Post Covid, a 2021 animated comedy film depicting the main characters of South Park forty years after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
  • Songbird, 2020 science-fiction thriller film inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, with an exaggerated twist of COVID-19 mutating into COVID-23 in 2024.
  • The sixth season of Queen Sugar, a 2016 drama series focusing on a pair of siblings who are forced to cope with their new life of taking over the sugarcane farm after a loved one's death; in this season, the story is predominantly about the COVID-19 pandemic and some of the characters catching the virus, such as Charley.
  • Social Distance, a 2020 television series focusing on individuals who are forced to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of quarantine, and the subsequent George Floyd protests.

See also

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