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The Geography of Pandemic Effects

After a year in which COVID-19 has suspended normal life as we once knew it, it is important to take stock of the big picture. Only by understanding which developments will prove permanent, and which fleeting, can we begin to make smart decisions for managing the aftermath of this historic crisis.

OTTAWA – The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming virtually every aspect of our lives. While causing tremendous loss of life and unspeakable pain and suffering, it is also accelerating a host of climatic, digital, and socioeconomic transformations. Maps can help visualize these changes, from the impact of lockdowns on greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and international air travel to trends in internet access, social protest, and the vaccination rollout.

Since the first case of a highly contagious novel coronavirus was reported in China in December 2019, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has spread to more than 200 countries. There have been more than 133 million confirmed infections and 2.9 million deaths, and this is likely an undercount. The number of “excess deaths” – mortality above the “natural” baseline – is even higher. The worst-affected countries – Brazil, India, Italy, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States – account for over 50% of all fatalities.

COVID-19 has already killed over 0.05% of the global population, making it among the top ten most lethal pandemics in recorded history. Though vaccines are being rolled out, the pandemic is far from over. Predicting future trajectories is exceedingly difficult, but we can already anticipate that the lasting effects of the pandemic will be highly differentiated across regions and demographic groups, disproportionately affecting the elderly, minorities, and the poor.