July 25, 2021

Wuhan pneumonia outbreak: A timeline of how the new coronavirus spread

3 min read

BEIJING: A new coronavirus, a mysterious SARS-like disease, has spread around China and to three other Asian countries since first emerging in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

A timeline of how the virus has spread:


The World Health Organisation (WHO) is alerted on Dec 31, 2019, by Chinese authorities of a string of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people.

Patients are quarantined and work begins on identifying the origin of the pneumonia.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies a seafood market suspected to be at the centre of the outbreak. The market is closed on Jan 1, 2020.


On Jan 2, Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) says it is aware of the pneumonia outbreak and is monitoring the situation closely.

Temperature screening will be implemented for all travellers arriving at Changi Airport from Wuhan and suspected cases will be referred to hospitals for further assessment.


On Jan 9, the WHO says that the outbreak in Wuhan was caused by a previously unknown type of coronavirus, which is a broad family ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like SARS.

To date, 59 people have been infected, of whom seven are in a serious condition, according to an official toll.

READ: Wuhan pneumonia virus outbreak: What we know so far


Chinese health authorities say a first person has died of the virus on Jan 11. They revise downwards the number of sick people to 41.

Factfile on the coronavirus family, which circulate in animals and can be transmitted to humans. A new strain of this virus has been identified in Wuhan, China. (AFP)


On Jan 13, the virus spreads beyond China’s borders for the first time, with a case emerging in Thailand, according to the WHO. 

The victim is a Chinese woman diagnosed with mild pneumonia who was returning from a trip to Wuhan.

On Jan 15, China’s health commission says no human-to-human transmission of the virus behind the Wuhan outbreak has been confirmed so far, but the possibility “cannot be excluded”.

The next day a first case of the virus is confirmed in Japan in someone who had stayed in Wuhan in early January.

A woman wearing a mask walks past a quarantine notice about the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, C
A woman wearing a mask walks past a quarantine notice about the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China at an arrival hall of Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan, January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon


On Jan 17, a second person, a 69-year-old man, dies in Wuhan, according to authorities.

The same day, the CDC announces that it will begin screening passengers arriving from Wuhan at three airports: San Francisco, New York’s JFK and Los Angeles.

READ: Wuhan pneumonia virus casts shadow over Chinese New Year festival


On Jan 20, a third death and more than 100 new cases are announced in China, sparking concerns ahead of the annual Chinese New Year holiday which begins Jan 25 and sees hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel nationwide.

The virus is present in Beijing in the north, Shanghai in the east and Shenzhen in the south. More than 200 cases have been recorded. 

The virus is also detected in South Korea in a Chinese person who has arrived by plane from Wuhan.

China’s President Xi Jinping says that the virus must be “resolutely contained”, in his first public comments on the outbreak.

Human-to-human transmission is “affirmative”, a top Chinese expert on infectious diseases Zhong Nanshan tells state broadcaster CCTV.

Wuhan disease
Medical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on Jan 18, 2020. (STR/AFP)


Singapore’s MOH said on Jan 20 that temperature screening at Changi Airport will be extended to all travellers arriving from China.

Individuals with pneumonia who had travelled to Wuhan within 14 days before the onset of symptoms will be isolated in hospital.

On Jan 21, Australia announced it will begin screening passengers from some flights from China.


An 89-year-old man becomes the fourth person to die from the virus, Chinese health authorities say on Jan 21.

It also confirms 15 medical workers in Wuhan have been diagnosed with pneumonia, with an additional worker suspected of having the disease.