Coronavirus: How can we imagine the scale of Covid's death toll?

The suffering from the coronavirus pandemic has come to define 2020. But how do you grasp the immense scale of loss? Flowers - symbols of grief, peace, and love - serve as a tribute to those who have died.

Imagine the pandemic as a flower . In the animation below, the stem grows as Covid-19 cases increase over time and the petals unfurl as more people die with the disease.

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Click the sound button to hear the pandemic represented in audio.

The world was firmly in the grip of Covid-19 by April, as the growing petals in this animation show. Then, despite restrictions introduced by many countries, the wave of daily deaths worldwide dipped only slightly.

The number of daily deaths started climbing again at the end of summer in the northern hemisphere. And the petals representing the most recent data are the largest of all, showing that the number of daily deaths around the world is higher now than it has ever been.

How have different continents been affected?

Drawing a flower for each continent helps explain how the global death rate has continued to climb steadily as the focus of the outbreak has shifted around the world.

A decline in the death rate in Europe coincided with the summer months, but it was offset by a severe outbreak in Latin America, some of which was enduring winter. Then as the number of daily deaths fell there, it began to rise again in Europe.

The first day of the pandemic starts at 12 o'clock

A similar pattern is seen elsewhere. The reduction in the number of daily deaths in North America – mainly the US – was partially offset by the later-breaking wave of infections in Asia.

Reported deaths in the Middle East and Africa seem to have remained low throughout. Oceania – not pictured above – has largely avoided the pandemic.

Sadly, despite the development of several Covid-19 vaccines, the pandemic is far from over. Each country is at a different stage in managing the virus. Choose a country from the dropdown list below to see its outbreak in more depth.

What does the pandemic look like in each country?

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Click here for a Covid-19 table of all countries

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The world's first Covid-19 case is believed to have occurred at some point in China in November, although it is not known exactly when. On 31 December, health officials in Wuhan city, Hubei province, reported that they were treating dozens of cases of pneumonia of an unknown cause. Days later, scientists identified that a new virus was responsible.

the the first known coronavirus case was reported on confirmed cases of the virus in the country

The trend in new cases in the

Wuhan reported 1,290 fatalities on 17 April, resulting in a jump in China's death toll that appears as a large petal in the flower above. Officials said the rise was due to updated reporting and deaths outside hospitals.


How do the flowers work?

The length of each flower's stalk corresponds to the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, continent, or the world overall.

Each line inside the circle of the flower head represents a day since the start of the pandemic. The size of the petals depends on the number of deaths reported on any one of those days.

What does the sound mean?

The music corresponds with grim milestones in the coronavirus pandemic. The bell toll marks thresholds in confirmed cases, while the drone and plucking both get louder as deaths increase.

Where does the data for the visualisations come from?

Most of the case and death figures come from Johns Hopkins University, although the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is the source for China and for any data before 22 January, when the Johns Hopkins dataset begins. Government data is used for the UK and France.

All the numbers are an underestimate of the true impact of coronavirus. When so-called excess deaths - the number of deaths above the average - are considered, the toll increases.

A regularly updated guide to the state of the pandemic is available on our tracking the global outbreak page.


By Irene de la Torre Arenas, Sarah Rainbow, Scott Jarvis, Catriona Morrison, Ed Lowther and Harriet Agerholm.