COVID-19 PANDEMIC TIMELINE

How the coronavirus started, spread and stalled life in New Zealand

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The economy is in turmoil, scared Kiwis are stockpiling and travellers are self-isolating. How did we get here? Susan Strongman traces Covid-19 from the first cases in China to the fall out in New Zealand.

DECEMBER 2019 

It starts as early as 1 December when, in Wuhan City, in the central Chinese province of Hubei, cases of pneumonia of an unknown cause surface.  Li Wenliang, a Wuhan-based ophthalmologist, warns a group of fellow doctors about a possible outbreak of an illness that resembles severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Police tell him to stop “making false comments”. On 31 December, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is told about the cases. 


JANUARY 2020

From 31 December 2019 through 3 January 2020, 44 patients with the mysterious illness are reported to the WHO by Chinese authorities. More than half have links to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. On 1 January, the market is closed. 


On 7 January, a new type of coronavirus is identified and isolated by Chinese authorities. Five days later, China shares the genetic sequence of the virus for countries to use in developing diagnostic kits.

Between 13 January and 20 January, cases of the virus spread through China and into Thailand, Japan and South Korea. By 23 January, the number of cases has risen to 581- with the virus reported in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and the United States - and 17 people have died. Public transport in Wuhan is suspended, with closure of airports, railway stations, and highways, and people are asked not to leave the city.

On 24 January, New Zealand's Ministry of Health sets up a team to monitor the situation, but says the current risk is low. The following day, three cases of the virus are confirmed in Australia. On January 27, public health staff begin meeting flights from China to look for signs of the virus. The global number of cases rises to nearly 2800 and the death toll reaches 80.

On 30 January, the government charters an Air New Zealand flight to evacuate New Zealanders from Wuhan. The following day, the WHO declares the outbreak to be a “public health emergency of international concern”. 


FEBRUARY 2020 

Reports of transmission of the virus among people who have not visited China begin to emerge. By 2 February, there are 14,557 confirmed cases of the virus and 305 deaths - including one in the Philippines, which is the first outside of China. A joint WHO-China research team says the epidemic peaked and plateaued in China between the 23 January and 2 February, and has been declining steadily since. 

On 3 February, the New Zealand Government places entry restrictions on foreign nationals travelling here from, or transiting through, mainland China. Those who can enter the country must self-isolate for 14 days. 

6 February

The chartered flight carrying 193 evacuees from Wuhan touches down in Auckland. Passengers are quarantined for 14 days at a naval base in Whangaparaoa.

On 8 February, two New Zealanders aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess, which is harboured in Yokohama, Japan, are confirmed to have the virus. A total of 64 passengers are infected and are quarantined in their cabins. 

A passenger is escorted from the Diamond Princess

A passenger is escorted from the Diamond Princess

On 11 February, the WHO names the disease covid-19, short for “coronavirus disease 2019.” There are now 43,103 confirmed cases of the infection and 1018 people have died - more than the total number of deaths during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2004. 


12 February

On 17 February, a Chinese tourist in France becomes the first person outside of Asia to die after contracting the virus. The WHO starts reporting both clinically and lab-confirmed cases of covid-19, accounting for an increase in cases to 71,429. Sixty million people in Hubei province are told to stay at home unless there is an emergency and the use of private cars is banned. The number of new cases in China drops for the third consecutive day.

On 19 February, the first case of covid-19 is reported in Iran. The quarantine of people evacuated from Wuhan to Whangaparaoa ends.

New Zealanders evacuated from Wuhan leave quarantine

New Zealanders evacuated from Wuhan leave quarantine

On 22 February, 634 cases are confirmed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Italy quarantines more than 50,000 people from 11 different municipalities in the north of the country.



Covid-19 cases:

Top 10 worst-affected countries as at 17 March
(excluding China)




By 24 February, there are 79,331 cases confirmed globally, 2069 of which are outside of China. The following day, Iran’s deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi tests positive for covid-19, as the country struggles to contain the outbreak.

Iraj Harirchi shows signs of illness at a press conference

Iraj Harirchi shows signs of illness at a press conference

On 26 February, for the first time, there are more new cases reported from countries outside of China (459) than from in China (412). The number of cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea is increasing. 

New Zealand reports its first case of covid-19 on 28 February, in a person in their 60s who has travelled to Auckland from Iran. The government places restrictions on people travelling to New Zealand from Iran.

On 29 February, health staff begin meeting direct flights landing at New Zealand airports from Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand. Some supermarkets are swamped by people buying toilet paper, hand sanitiser and tinned food.


MARCH 2020

Australia and the United States both report their first covid-19 related deaths on 1 March. The following day, the global death toll tops 3000. The New Zealand government announces that anyone who has visited northern Italy and South Korea must self-isolate for 14 days.

On 4 March, an Auckland woman in her 30s who has visited northern Italy is confirmed as being the second case of Covid-19 in New Zealand

Milan’s usually packed Piazza del Duomo is almost empty

Milan’s usually packed Piazza del Duomo is almost empty

The next day, a third case of covid-19 is confirmed in Auckland in a man in his 40s whose family recently travelled from Iran. This is the first known person-to-person transmission in New Zealand.

On 6 March a fourth case of the virus is confirmed in New Zealand in an Auckland man in his 30s. He is the partner of the second case, announced on 4 March.

On 7 March a fifth case of covid-19 is confirmed in New Zealand - an Auckland woman in her 40s who is the partner of the third case. 

The global number of reported cases of covid-19 surpasses 100,000, to 101,927.

By 8 March, more than 100 countries have reported cases of covid-19.

Italy prepares to lock down at least 16 million people in the region of Lombardy and in 11 other provinces in the north and east of the country. Two days later, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte puts the entire country on lockdown. 


On 11 March, the WHO declares an official pandemic.

The first case of covid-19 is reported in French Polynesia on 12 March, and the United States suspends travel from Europe (excluding the United Kingdom, which is later included in the ban). There are now 125,260 confirmed cases of covid-19 and 4613 people have died.

On 13 March Auckland’s Pasifika Festival is cancelled due to concerns about the risk of the virus spreading into the Pacific. The Black Caps play Australia in an empty stadium in Sydney amid concerns about the spread of the virus. The rest of the tour is later called off.

The abandoned Pasifika Festival site

The abandoned Pasifika Festival site

Europe is now the epicentre of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths there than in the rest of the world combined, apart from China. More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic.

New Zealand’s sixth case of covid-19 is confirmed on 14 March, in an Auckland man in his 60s who had travelled to the US. 

The New Zealand Government announces anyone entering the country must self-isolate for 14 days, except those arriving from the Pacific. Cruise ships are banned from the country. Strict border measures for people travelling from New Zealand to the Pacific are put in place, including health assessment requirements. 

Memorial services for the Christchurch terror attacks of 15 March, 2019 are cancelled.  

On 15 March two more people test positive for the virus in New Zealand - a man in his 60s visiting Wellington from Australia; and a woman in her 30s from Denmark, who is in Queenstown. This brings the number of confirmed cases in New Zealand to eight. There are an additional two probable cases. France and Spain go into lockdown.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says the government is expecting a serious blow to the economy from the effects of the virus and the travel ban.




On 16 March Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says any tourists that enter New Zealand and don't self-quarantine will be deported.

Travellers arrive at Auckland International Airport on 16 March

Travellers arrive at Auckland International Airport on 16 March

Air New Zealand halts share trading and slashes services, and the Reserve Bank announces an emergency official cash rate cut. 

The total number of cases and deaths outside China has overtaken the total number of cases in China. Germany closes its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland, Canada shuts its borders to foreign nationals except US citizens. Other countries with border closures include Poland, the Czech Republic and Denmark. 


By 17 March, three new cases are confirmed in New Zealand and Healthline is monitoring 2875 people in self-isolation. To date 7070 people have completed self-isolation. Meanwhile, financial markets around the globe continue to freefall.

To cushion the impact on New Zealand’s economy, the government announces a $12.1 billion package, worth 4 percent of the country’s GDP. The package includes a $500 million boost for health, $8.7 billion in support for businesses and jobs and $2.8 billion for income support and boosting consumer spending. A Dunedin school will close for the next two days, after a pupil is confirmed to be the country's 12th case of covid-19.

A Dunedin high school pupil tests positive for Covid-19

A Dunedin high school pupil tests positive for Covid-19

On 18 March, eight new cases of the virus are announced - four in Auckland, one in Christchurch, two in Waikato and one in Invercargill. All cases are in people who have returned to New Zealand from overseas. Globally, there are 191,127 cases of the virus and 7807 people have died.

The following day, 19 March, eight further cases are announced, bringing the total number in New Zealand to 28. Two of the new cases are in Southland, two are in Taranaki, one is in Rotorua, one is in Northland and two are in Auckland. Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says all cases are linked to overseas travel, meaning the coronavirus has not yet been transmitted in the community. All indoor gatherings of more than 100 people are to be cancelled. For the first time since the outbreak began, no new cases are reported in Wuhan, China.

For the first time in history, the government closes the country's borders to all but New Zealand citizens and permanent residents.

"I recognise how extraordinary this is," says Ardern as she announces the closure. "I'm not willing to take risks here." 


On 20 March, 11 more cases of covid-19 are confirmed. Auckland Council closes pools, libraries, galleries and other community facilities for 14 days, and Air New Zealand’s shares plummet as it resumes trading after a four-day halt.  The number of confirmed cases worldwide exceeds 200,000. It took more than three months to reach the first 100,000 cases, and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000.

“Today, I have a message for young people: you are not invincible,” says WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This virus could put you in hospital for weeks, or even kill you.”

On 21 March, 13 new cases of covid-19 are confirmed in New Zealand. The Ministry of Health is yet to establish links to overseas travel in two cases, one in Auckland and one in the Wairarapa, meaning community transmission cannot be ruled out. This brings the total number of cases in New Zealand to 52, with an additional four probable cases. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asks people 70 years old and older and people with compromised immune systems to stay at home as much as possible. She asks people who can work from home to do so, and says people should limit travel within the country.

The Government introduces a four-level alert system to help combat covid-19.

Ardern says the country is currently at level two, which means the risk of community transmission is growing.


On 22 March, 14 new cases are confirmed in New Zealand, and community transmission is yet to be ruled out. Eleven of the new cases have a history of international travel and one is a close contact of a confirmed case. Five of the new cases are in Auckland, one is in Northland, one is in Canterbury, two are in New Plymouth, three are in Waikato, one is in Tauranga and one is in Dunedin. The total number of cases in New Zealand is now 66.

A 68-year-old woman dies in Guam - the first covid-19 related death in the Pacific. Other Pacific islands with cases of the virus are Fiji (2), Papua New Guinea (1), French Polynesia (11), New Caledonia (4) and Hawaii (48). Nauru, Tonga, Samoa and Tuvalu have all declared a state of emergency.

The following day, Monday 23 March, the number of cases in New Zealand surpasses 100. Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirms 36 new cases, bringing the total to 102. The two cases confirmed on 21 March that could not be linked to overseas travel - one in Wairarapa and one in Auckland - are being treated as community transmission.

The Prime Minister announces the country has moved to alert level three, effective immediately.

This means there is a heightened risk that the disease is not contained, and that community transmission is occurring.

People are instructed to stay at home. Schools and other educational facilities will be closed from 24 March. All non-essential businesses will close (this excludes essential businesses like supermarkets, pharmacies and medical clinics.) Travel will be severely limited and healthcare services will be re-prioritised.

In 48 hours, the country will move to alert level four.

An Auckland supermarket after the Prime Minister's announcement

An Auckland supermarket after the Prime Minister's announcement


24 March

On 24 March, 43 new cases are announced. The Ministry of Health begins counting clinically confirmed as well as lab tested cases of the virus, accounting for an increase in the total number of cases to 155. Bloomfield says 12 people in New Zealand have recovered from covid-19.

There are now four cases of community transmission. Two are in a couple from Orewa, Auckland, with one other case in Auckland and one case in the Wairarapa.

"As you will all be aware, we are preparing to move to alert level four," Bloomfield says. "There is a clear consensus that the sooner we do this the better and this gives New Zealand our best chance of breaking the chain of community transmission."

The following day, 25 March, the Olympic Games are postponed, to 2021. Globally, there are 372,757 confirmed cases of covid-19 and 16,231 people have died.

In New Zealand, a state of emergency is declared, as the country prepares to go into lock-down at midnight, for a minimum of four weeks.

Fifty new cases of the virus are announced. Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the number is likely to increase over the next 10 days, as people who have been exposed to the virus begin to show symptoms.


11:59pm, 25 March

New Zealand moves to alert level four, and the entire nation goes into self-isolation. “We have a window of opportunity to stay home, break the chain of transmission, and save lives,” says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. “It’s that simple.”


26 March

Normally bustling streets are empty as New Zealand enters day one of lockdown. 78 new cases of covid-19 are announced, bringing the number of cases to 283. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield warns New Zealand may see thousands of cases before the turnaround point.

Waking up to lockdown: The Beehive seen from Featherston Street, usually crawling with foot traffic from nearby Wellington Railway station. Photo: Rob Dixon / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: Mangere Town Centre, a small number of people arrived to wait for a supermarket to open. Photo: Claire Eastham-Farrelly / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: Downtown Auckland. Photo: Simon Rogers / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: A closed swing at the Margaret Mahy playground in Christchurch. Photo: Nathan McKinnon / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: Cathedral square, Christchurch. Photo: Nathan McKinnon / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: Wellington motorway. Photo: Dom Thomas / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: The Beehive seen from Featherston Street, usually crawling with foot traffic from nearby Wellington Railway station. Photo: Rob Dixon / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: Mangere Town Centre, a small number of people arrived to wait for a supermarket to open. Photo: Claire Eastham-Farrelly / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: Downtown Auckland. Photo: Simon Rogers / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: A closed swing at the Margaret Mahy playground in Christchurch. Photo: Nathan McKinnon / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: Cathedral square, Christchurch. Photo: Nathan McKinnon / RNZ

Waking up to lockdown: Wellington motorway. Photo: Dom Thomas / RNZ

In Europe, covid-19 continues to spread rapidly. Italy now has 69,176 cases of the virus, Spain has 39,673 , Germany has 31,554, and France has 22,025.


As New Zealand enters its second day of lockdown, on 27 March, the Health Ministry announces 85 new cases of covid-19, bringing the total number of cases to 368.

The following day, 83 new cases are announced in New Zealand. The majority of cases are still directly linked to overseas travel or other confirmed cases. The global number of cases has surpassed half a million, to 509,164 .

On 29 March, New Zealand reports its first covid-19 related death, in a woman in her 70s from the West Coast region. 63 new cases of the virus are reported, bringing the total number to 514. The following day, 76 new cases of the virus are announced in New Zealand. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says about 2 percent of cases - in approximately 10 people - appear to be the result of community transmission.

On 31 March, Bloomfield announces 58 new cases of covid-19, bringing the New Zealand total to 647. He says 74 people have recovered.


APRIL 2020

On 1 April, Health Ministry Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay says there are 61 new cases, and 82 people have recovered. There are 14 people hospitalised with the virus in New Zealand, including two who are in intensive care units, but are in a stable condition.

On 2 April, New Zealand has its biggest increase in one day, as the Health Ministry confirms 89 new cases of covid-19, bringing the total number to 797.

On 3 April, there are 71 new cases, and Finance Minister Grant Robertson announces legislation to make changes to the Companies Act. He says it will help struggling businesses, by, among other things, letting them place existing debts into hibernation until they start trading normally again, and allowing company directors facing liquidity problems a ‘safe harbour’ from insolvency duties.

On Saturday 4 April, there are 82 new cases of Covid-19 bringing the national total to 950. Officials have repeatedly said the effects of the lockdown won't be seen for 10 to 12 days. This is day 10 of the lockdown.

The following day, 89 new cases are announced, bringing New Zealand's total to 1039. There are now 12 clusters of covid-19 in the country. A cluster is where there are 10 or more infections from the same place.

Writer
Susan Strongman

Photographs and video
AFP, Dan Cook, Ian Telfer, Dom Thomas

Editor
Veronica Schmidt

Data visualisation
Kate Newton

Art direction and design
Luke McPake

Development
Josephine Hall

Data sourced from John Hopkins University,
NZ Ministry of Health, and
ourworldindata.org