This timeline focuses on the origins of the novel coronavirus and the Chinese Communist Party’s response. It is based on publicly available sources and will be updated as new information emerges.
Last updated: May 26, 2020
Nov. 17: A 55-year-old resident from Hubei province contracts COVID-19, according to data seen by the South China Morning Post, possibly the first coronavirus case.
Dec. 1: The first coronavirus case now recognized by Chinese authorities is recorded in a Wuhan hospital. The patient was initially suspected to have been infected by an animal (likely a bat) in the Huanan Seafood Market, a narrative now in dispute as researchers propound alternative origins, including that lax security procedures in the Wuhan Institute of Virology led to its escape.
A police officer standing guard outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale market on January 24, 2020, where the novel coronavirus was first detected. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)
Dec. 6: The first suspected human-to-human transmission is recorded by Wuhan doctors. A patient is observed to have the virus but denies ever visiting the seafood market.
Dec. 25: Wuhan doctors suspect disease transmission from patients to medical staff, further evidence of human-to-human transmission and the first instance of a threat to healthcare workers. Wuhan hospitals have experienced a steady rise in infections since the first cases.
Dec. 27: A French patient is confirmed to have the virus, marking the first known case outside of China. The sample from the patient was not analyzed until May 2020.
Dec. 27: A Guangzhou-based genomics company sequences most of the virus, showing an “alarming similarity to…SARS.” Samples of the virus are distributed to at least six other genomics companies for testing.
Dec. 31: Taiwanese public health officials warn the World Health Organization (WHO) that the virus is spreading between humans. The WHO never publicizes the warning.
Dec. 31: The same day, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission declares that it has no evidence of human-to-human transmission and informs the WHO of the outbreak.
Dec. 31: Chinese social media censors introduce a list of coronavirus-related terms, including “Wuhan unknown pneumonia” and “unknown SARS,” to block from online discussions.
Jan. 1: The Wuhan Public Security Bureau summons eight people to its headquarters, including Dr. Li Wenliang, who initially warned the public about the virus, accusing them of spreading “hoaxes.” Dr. Li signs a statement confessing to his “misdemeanor.” The fate of the other seven is unknown.
Jan. 1: An official at the Hubei Provincial Health Commission orders a genomics company to cease “testing samples from Wuhan and to destroy all existing samples.” The company’s labs had sequenced the virus’s genetic code in December with results suggesting a highly infectious virus similar to SARS.
Jan. 3: China’s National Health Commission (NHC) orders institutions “not to publish any information related to the unknown disease” and orders labs to “transfer any samples they had to designated testing institutions or to destroy them.” The order did not specify any testing institutions.
Jan. 3: U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Robert Redfield receives reports on the novel coronavirus from Chinese colleagues. The chief of staff to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar informs the National Security Council.
Jan. 5: Six days after its China Country Office was “informed of cases of pneumonia with unknown etiology” in Wuhan, the WHO “advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the information available on this event.”
Jan. 6: The CDC offers to send a team to assist Chinese authorities; it never receives permission to enter the country.
Jan. 6: Wuhan hosts annual, eleven-day meetings with local and Hubei provincial officials. Local officials reportedly “stymied” investigators from Beijing for fear of angering their superiors.
Jan. 7: President Xi Jinping reportedly orders public officials to control the outbreak during a private meeting of top CCP leadership. The existence of the meeting was not reported by state media until February, in the face of heavy criticism from Chinese citizens.
Police on Jan. 9 examined items seized from a store suspected of trafficking wildlife in Guangde in central China’s Anhui province. (Associated Press)
Jan. 9: Chinese authorities announce publicly that a novel coronavirus was behind the recent viral pneumonia outbreak.
Jan. 9: Xinhua News Agency first reports on the outbreak.
Jan. 9: The WHO praises the Chinese government: “Preliminary identification of a novel virus in a short period of time is a notable achievement and demonstrates China’s increased capacity to manage new outbreaks.” It also stresses that “the virus does not spread readily between people” and reiterates its advice against travel or trade restrictions on China.
Jan. 11: China reports its first known death due to the virus.
Jan. 12: Chinese authorities share the virus’s genome with the rest of the world.
Jan. 13: Thailand reports its first case.
Jan. 14: Nearly six weeks after Wuhan doctors raise the possibility of human-to-human transmission, the WHO issues a statement stressing that Chinese authorities recorded no cases of human-to-human transmission.
Jan. 14: Hubei Provincial officials hold a teleconference with Ma Xiaowei, the head of China’s National Health Commission, who details the threat posed by the new virus. A memo from the teleconference raises the possibility of human-to-human transmission.
A passenger walks past a notice for passengers from Wuhan, China displayed near a quarantine station at Narita airport on January 17, 2020 in Narita, Japan. (Tomohiro Ohsumi via Getty Images)
Jan. 15: Japan records its first case of coronavirus.
Jan. 15: China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing initiates internally its highest-level emergency response, which includes directions to hospitals to take protective precautions and to begin tracking cases. The directions are marked “not to be publicly disclosed.”
Jan. 18: Wuhan authorities allow nearly 40,000 to gather for the Lunar New Year celebration.
Jan. 20: Chinese state media first reports that President Xi ordered officials to stop the virus; President Xi also makes a public statement, failing to mention human-to-human transmission.
Jan. 20: Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a leading authority on respiratory health who rose to prominence for his role fighting SARS, confirms that the disease spreads from person-to-person. The head of China’s NHC investigatory team also confirms cases of human-to-human transmission in Guangdong province, indicating spread between provinces.
Jan. 21: The CDC confirms the first American case, a Washington resident who had returned from China six days earlier.
Tedros Adhanom, director general of the World Health Organization, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on January 28, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Naohiko Hatta via Getty Images)
Jan. 22: WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praises China for its “cooperation” and praises Xi Jinping for his “leadership and intervention” which had been “invaluable” to responding to the outbreak. A WHO Emergency Committee concludes that the virus does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
Travelers arriving on a train from Wuhan are checked at Hangzhou Railway Station on Jan. 23. (China Daily/REUTERS)
Jan. 23: Chinese authorities announce first steps for their lockdown of the city of Wuhan. Travel from Wuhan to other countries continues uninhibited until group restrictions are put in place on Jan. 27.
Jan. 23: President Xi announces that he will hand over responsibility for the coronavirus outbreak to the Chinese Communist Party’s no. 2, Premier Li Keqiang.
Jan. 24: France records Europe’s first and second real-time cases.
Jan. 26: The Chinese government announces it will extend the Lunar New Year Holiday until February 2.
A group of Chinese tourists walks outside the arrival lobby at Narita airport on January 24, 2020 in Narita, Japan. (Tomohiro Ohsumi via Getty Images)
Jan. 27: The Chinese government suspends group travel to foreign countries (individuals would still travel abroad unencumbered), three days after massive outbound traffic begins for the Lunar New Year. Over those days, travelers journeyed to Japan, South Korea, the United States, Italy, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, and South America.
Jan. 30: The WHO declares the coronavirus a global health emergency, while expressing confidence in “China’s capacity to control the outbreak.” The organization recommends against border closures, visa restrictions, and quarantining of healthy visitors from affected regions.
Jan. 30: Several provinces and cities extend the Lunar New Year holiday until at least February 13 to halt commerce and travel.
Jan. 31: CCP authorities order residents in Atush, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, to confine themselves in their homes for three weeks. Residents say they were given no prior warning and Uighur watchdog groups report widespread starvation in the area. Authorities never close Uighur detention camps.
Jan. 31: Iran presumptively cancels all flights to and from China. Privately owned Mahan Airlines (which has links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) continues service between Tehran and China, including Wuhan, for at least another week.
Feb. 1: Responding to the prior day’s announcement that the United States would suspend entry of foreign nationals who had visited China, Chinese officials criticize the move as “neither based in fact nor helpful” and “certainly not a gesture of goodwill.”
Feb. 2: The first coronavirus death outside China is reported: a 44-year-old man in the Philippines.
Feb. 5: The Chinese embassy in Canberra criticizes Australia’s travel ban on entries from mainland China.
Feb. 6: A California patient initially thought to have died from influenza is confirmed in April to be the first COVID-19 death in the U.S. The first U.S. death reported in real-time would not be until February 29 in Seattle.
Dr. Li Wenliang being treated at the Wuhan Central Hospital in January 2019.
Feb. 7: Dr. Li Wenliang, considered by the Chinese public to be the foremost champion of spreading information about coronavirus, succumbs to the virus at the age of 33. His death leads to an outpouring of national anger over information suppression.
Feb. 7: Shortly after Dr. Li’s death, the hashtag “#wewantfreedomofspeech” trends on Chinese social media platform, Weibo. The same day, along with other related topics, it is deleted by censors.
Feb. 7: Xi Jinping and President Trump speak; Trump pledges assistance to China and congratulates them on their progress.
Feb. 14: France reports the first coronavirus death in Europe: an 80-year-old Chinese tourist.
Feb. 21: Iran reports its first coronavirus cases from an unknown source.
Police officers stopped cars on the road outside Casalpusterlengo, Italy, one of the towns under quarantine, on February 23. (Andrea Mantovani/New York Times)
Feb. 23: Italy first reports a major surge in coronavirus cases; Codogno, near Milan, becomes the first Italian town to lock itself down.
Feb. 24: In response to criticism of CCP treatment of Uighur communities during the outbreak, Wang Xining, China’s number two diplomat in Australia, calls Uighur detention camps “training centers,” where people get “training for future jobs” and where residency is “mostly voluntary.”
Workers are seen at a labor camp in Hotan, Xinjiang province, China on an unknown date. (Uighur Times)
Feb. 26: 30,000 Uighur workers, described by some as “dispensable labor” are sent back to factories. International watchdogs describe the move as “dangerous,” turning Uighurs into “commodities of the state” who would assume the risk of infection while stimulating the Chinese economy.
Feb. 26: The Chinese government announces plans to publish a book, Great War, that details Xi Jinping’s “strategic vision and outstanding leadership” in combatting the virus in China, alongside a demonstration of the “advantages” of the “socialist system with Chinese characteristics” in handling such a crisis.
Feb. 26: A São Paolo man, recently returned from a trip to Italy, becomes the first coronavirus case in Latin America, according to Brazilian health officials.
Feb. 28: Nigeria confirms the first coronavirus case in Sub-Saharan Africa, a businessman traveling from Milan to Lagos.
Feb. 29: China Daily, a state media organ, launches a coronavirus timeline but displays no information regarding events before Jan. 25.
Mar. 3: Xinhua contends that the “world should thank China” for its early response to the virus and touts that, unlike the American government and Chinese citizens, it never imposed a travel ban on United States citizens.
Mar. 8: China announces an $8 million donation to the WHO.
Chinese President Xi Jinping wears a mask as he gestures to a coronavirus patient and medical staff via a video link at the Huoshenshan hospital in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on March 10, 2020. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua/AFP via Getty Images)
Mar. 11: The WHO declares the outbreak a pandemic.
Mar. 12: China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian insinuates in a tweet that COVID-19 originated in America and was spread to China by the United States military.
Mar. 14: Friends of Chinese businessman Ren Zhiqiang report that he has disappeared. Ren had authored an essay blasting the CCP for its slow response to the outbreak, blaming its speech restrictions for exacerbating the crisis and calling President Xi a “power-hungry clown.”
Mar. 15: In a public address Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić blasts the European Union for failing to provide the country with aid and announces a personal appeal to President Xi for Chinese assistance, saying “the only country that can help us is China.” Serbia’s application for EU membership is still under consideration, and the CCP has long seen the nation as a way of making inroads in Europe.
Mar. 16: Chinese operatives push misinformation across several platforms, falsely informing Americans that a mandatory federal lockdown was imminent. The strategy was intended to “induce panic.”
Mar. 17: Xinhua News announces that President Xi, as relayed in a phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, will send medical experts and supplies to Italy as part of his initiative to create a “Health Silk Road.” The supplies were, in fact, sold to the Italian government.
Mar. 17: Xinhua News criticizes the American government for irresponsibility and incompetence while praising the “arduous effort” of the Chinese government which “provided the world with precious time” needed to organize its response.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang speaks during the daily press briefing in Beijing on March 18, 2020. (Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)
Mar. 18: China revokes press credentials from Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post reporters.
Mar. 21: A train bound for Spain departs from Yiwu, China, loaded with 110,000 medical masks and 776 protective suits. The train from Yiwu to Madrid takes seventeen days (a flight takes less than one), and Chinese factories produced 110 million facemasks in February alone.
Mar. 21: Chinese state media outlets circulate reports that “an unexplained strain of pneumonia” may have originated in Italy late in 2019.
Protective gear is unloaded from an Austrian Airlines plane arrived from China and bound for Italy at Vienna Airport in Schwechat, Austria on March 23, 2020. (Georg Hochmuth/APA/AFP via Getty Images)
Mar. 23: The Hubei Provincial government lifts restrictions on Hubei Province, with the exception of Wuhan.
Mar. 25: Huawei donates two million masks to Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Greece—countries that are still considering 5G providers. The move is highly publicized by Huawei company officials.
Mar. 26: Spanish microbiologists report that tests sent to Spain by the CCP detected positive COVID-19 cases only 30% of the time.
Mar. 26: Researchers from University Hospital Ostrava in the Czech Republic report that 80% of the coronavirus antibody test kits received from the Chinese government were defective, likely because antibody tests cannot detect the illness in its early stages.
Mar. 29: The Dutch Health Ministry recalls over 600,000 faulty medical masks received from the Chinese government.
Mar. 31: The Chinese Health Commission admits it has been omitting asymptomatic cases of coronavirus to date and will begin including asymptomatic carriers in its daily counts.
A screenshot of Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus dashboard. (Johns Hopkins University)
Apr. 1: U.S. intelligence services report that the Chinese government “intentionally” under-represented its outbreak totals and that its reported numbers are “fake.”
Apr. 3: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army stages naval combat exercises in the South China Sea in response to U.S. “territorial violations” and because “COVID-19 has significantly lowered the U.S. Navy’s warship capability in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Apr. 5: German Chancellor Angela Merkel reaches an agreement with Xi Jinping to receive large-scale shipments of medical supplies from Chinese companies.
Apr. 14: The Washington Post reports that, in 2018, U.S. Embassy officials sent official warnings to Washington after visiting the Wuhan Institute of Virology. One cable concerned the Institute’s research on bat coronaviruses and warned that their potential transmission “represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.”
Apr. 15: Sources report that the growing consensus among U.S. officials is that the virus originated in a unit studying bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is central to China’s effort to become the global leader in identifying and combating viral outbreaks.
Apr. 20: A spokesman for the Wuhan Institute of Virology denies any link to the pandemic, declaring that there is “absolutely no way” the virus originated in the lab.
Apr. 24: The CCP pressures the European Union into removing references to China from a report on government misinformation and the coronavirus.
Apr. 30: The U.S. Intelligence Community confirms that it is investigating whether the coronavirus may have originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
May 3: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims that there is “enormous evidence” that the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology and accuses China of blocking international investigations into the virus’s origin.
May 3: A Department of Homeland Security report concludes that the Chinese government hoarded medical supplies during the virus’s early stages. It notes a pattern of increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies during December and January.
May 5: China Daily edits a reference to the virus’s origin in Wuhan out of an op-ed authored by 27 European ambassadors.
May 6: The Washington Post publishes an op-ed by Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai accusing the United States of an “always blame China” mindset.
May 11: Wuhan health authorities report the city’s first cluster of cases since the city removed its lockdown order on April 8.
May 11: The New York Times reports that the United States Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigations are preparing to accuse Chinese hackers of attempting to steal United States research into a coronavirus vaccine.
May 12: China suspends beef imports from Australia’s four largest producers and threatens trade retaliation should Australia continue to push for an inquiry into the virus’s origins.
May 13: The Global Times, a CCP media organ, reports that China is “considering punitive countermeasures against U.S. individuals, entities, and state officials,” such as Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and United States Senators Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton. Missouri passed legislation allowing coronavirus victims to sue the Chinese government for relief.
May 21: The CCP orders a lockdown of the city of Shulan in Northeast China and replaces a number of local leaders after a new coronavirus outbreak. This new crop of cases reportedly exhibits different symptoms and a longer incubation period than did the first outbreak.
May 22: The National People’s Congress (NPC)—seen largely as a body to rubber stamp CCP decisions—introduces a new national security law for Hong Kong that bans “treason, secession, sedition and subversion.” Critics warn that the law could mean the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy as it has existed since 1997. The U.S. Department of State declared on May 27 that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from China.
Research Manager: William Lombardo.