The World Health Organisation six months ago officially declared the deadly coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

By 11 March, while the virus had already spread to 110 countries, so much about the deadly disease was still unknown.

Australia had only recorded around 140 cases, with the now-infamous Ruby Princess and Melbourne hotel scandals yet to materialise.

Travel restrictions for the 26 countries in Europe that make up the Schengen Area were still yet to take effect.

Today the United States is the world’s hardest-hit country, while China – the original epicentre of the virus – has long faded out of the top ten.

Infections in Australia have increased dramatically, with Melburnians currently enduring one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns.

Here’s a look at how rapidly things have shifted over the past six months.

United States emerges as the worst-hit country

On 13 March, when President Donald Trump officially declared a national emergency, the United States was only just beginning to put travel restrictions into effect.

Bans on travel in and out of the Schengen Area were put in place that day, with travel to China and Iran already restricted, both of which were battling severe outbreaks of COVID-19.

But over the following months, the United States would rapidly overtake the rest of the world in virus cases.

On 11 April, the US death toll surpassed Italy’s to become the highest in the world. Just over two weeks later, on 28 April, it surpassed one million infections.

By 27 May, less than four months after the pandemic first reached the US, the virus had killed 100,000 Americans.

The US remains the hardest-hit country in numbers, having recorded nearly 6.4 million cases and over 190,000 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University (JSU) figures.

It is one of only four countries to record over one million cases, followed by India, Brazil and Russia.

The Trump administration has repeatedly come under criticism for its handling of the virus, which is only growing ahead of the 3 November election.

Just earlier this week, an audio recording revealed Mr Trump had sought to minimise the lethal threat of the coronavirus.

As the US heads towards its election, Mr Trump has repeatedly hinted that a vaccine could be publicly available before that date – which experts say is unlikely and more just a ploy for re-election.

As the US gets ready for its upcoming November election, its COVID-19 death toll continues to rise.


Death tolls skyrocket

The death toll from the coronavirus has grown rapidly over the last six months.

By 11 March, the world had recorded just under 4300 deaths. Most of these deaths were from China, but numbers were ticking up in Italy and Iran.

The US was leading the global death count by 13 April, ticking over 20,000 fatalities.

Today the US sits at 191,753 deaths, followed by Brazil at 129,522. India follows at 75,062 and Mexico has recorded 69,649 coronavirus deaths.

A Reuters tally from August found it took almost six months to reach 10 million coronavirus cases, starting with the first reported infection in Wuhan, China, in early January.

But it took just 43 days for the number of global infections to double to 20 milion.

The world is now closing in on 30 million cases – with 28,064,801 global infections as of 11 September.

More than 900,000 deaths related to COVID-19 have been recorded worldwide since the pandemic began.

Amarjeet Kumar Singh/AAP

Disaster unfolds in Victoria

Australia won global praise in the early days of the outbreak for its efficient pandemic response.

Borders were closed to all non-residents from 20 March, with strict nationwide social distancing rules in place the following day.

Non-essential businesses were closed, large social gatherings were banned, and some states and territories shut their borders off completely.

Controversies over huge crowds flocking to beaches in Sydney’s east were quickly dealt with; Waverley Council temporarily closed Bondi Beach and other nearby beaches on 21 March.


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The Ruby Princess marked Australia’s first major virus scandal, after 2700 passengers on the virus-hit cruise ship were allowed to disembark on 19 March. By 30 March, at least 440 passengers had tested positive for the virus.

But Melbourne’s hotel quarantine bungle had more devastating consequences, which are still being felt today.

The hotel scandal saw the Victorian government re-tighten restrictions on social gatherings on 20 June.

Subsequent clusters, including family clusters and breakouts in nine public housing towers, saw local lockdowns enforced across 10 different Melbourne postcodes.

Melbourne’s lockdown currently ranks among the toughest in the world, with a state of disaster and an 8pm-5am curfew from 2 August still in place.

The curfew won’t be lifted until 26 October.

With an 8pm curfew still in place, Melbourne’s streets are now deserted after dark.

Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Brazil deteriorates under far-right leader

The virus first reached Brazil on 25 February, and by 21 March had spread to every state in the country.

In May, the World Health Organisation declared South America the “new epicentre” of the pandemic. Peru, Chile and Argentina were dealing with soaring cases, but Brazil was by far the hardest-hit.

Throughout the pandemic, the country’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed the risks of COVID-19, infamously comparing the virus to “a little flu” and opposing lockdown measures in favour of preserving the country’s economy.

Mr Bolsonaro pinned his hopes on the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which have shown inconclusive results against the virus.

Today Brazil has recorded 129,522 deaths and 4,238,446 cases – the second and third highest tallies in the world, respectively.

Jair Bolsonaro carries a child during a protest against Brazil’s National Congress to back his open-the-economy drive in May.


India imposes world’s largest lockdown

The first case of COVID-19 was recorded on 30 January in India, but it wasn’t until June that cases began to accelerate more rapidly.

On 24 March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi enforced a nationwide lockdown, marking the world’s largest singular lockdown.

The lockdown lasted until 1 June, at which point the Modi government implemented a three-phase “unlocking” rollout plan, with some local exemptions.

India ticked over one million cases on 17 July, then doubled this number on 7 August.

Today the country has 4,465,863 infections – the second-highest number after the US – and has recorded over 75,000 deaths.

India imposed the world’s largest lockdown in March, with restrictions in place until June.


A global race emerges for a vaccine

As the global fatality rate continues to soar, a multi-billion dollar competition for a vaccine has broken out.

Dozens of research teams around the world are working to be the first to develop a vaccine, with the US, China and Europe investing the most money into their own projects.

A vaccine must go through multiple stages of research, development and clinical trials before it gets the green light for use by the broader public. Each step can take up to two years or more to complete.

But there are concerns about the speed at which these vaccines are being pushed through, given it could become an avenue of global influence for the country that succeeds first.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at

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