Coronavirus: The deadliest day in 2020


The deadliest day in 2020

By Beatriz Farrugia

On 11th January 2020, China announced that a 61-year-old man from Wuhan had died from a mysterious viral pneumonia. He was the first victim of COVID-19.

Exactly 353 days later, the world recorded the deadliest day of the pandemic.

Using data* from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Johns Hopkins University (JHU), this website tells the story of the coronavirus deadliest day in 2020.

The year

The coronavirus pandemic killed 1.8 million people across the world in 2020, between 11th January, when the first death was confirmed, and 31st December, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

The following video represents the daily number of coronavirus deaths officially recorded by the JHU.

The double bass tones are equivalent to the deaths per day, while the glockenspiel marks the time passing.

The ambient sound is human breathing, part of the respiratory system, which is attacked by the SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Every time the coronavirus deaths reach at least six thousand, you are going to hear a mandolin sound.

The day

The coronavirus pandemic reached its deadliest day on 29th December, when 15,512 deaths were confirmed across the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

The deaths occurred in 122 territories of 120 countries because Mayotte, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean that belongs to France, and Hong Kong, a Chinese autonomous province, counted victims that day.

Considering the countries recognized by the United Nations (UN), lives were lost in 61% of the world on 29th December 2020.

Reported coronavirus deaths on 29th December 2020 by countries, autonomous provinces and overseas territories

The number is close to the 15,899 deaths recorded on the 11th March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The catastrophe was one of the most powerful earthquakes in the last century.

And it is five times higher than the 9/11, when Al-Qaeda launched coordinated terrorist attacks against the United States.

On average, the SARS-Cov-2 killed 10.7 people per minute on 29th December.

It is estimated that, while you are reading this text,


people died that day.

The victims

One of them was the U.S. Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, 41. The Republican from Louisiana died 11 days after testing positive for coronavirus.

Luke Letlow died on 29th December. Source: social media

He was admitted to St. Francis Medical Center on 19th December. When his condition deteriorated, he was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) of Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport.

The congressman suffered a heart attack after a surgical operation to remove a blood clot and died on 29th December, five days before he would be sworn into office.

Mr. Letlow was elected to Congress early in December to represent Louisiana's 5th District.

The hospital reported that he had no underlying health conditions.

The congressman left behind a wife, Julia Barnhill Letlow, and two young children, Jeremiah, 3, and Jacqueline, 11 months.

The places

Luke Letlow died in the US, the country that officially recorded the highest number of victims on 29th December.

Dr. Marco Aurélio Safadi, an infectious disease doctor at Sabará Hospital, said that the absence of a universal public health service, the lack of coordinated actions and how President Donald Trump managed the crisis have contributed to the country lead the ranking of coronavirus victims.

“Political authorities' speeches and the president himself made it difficult to fight the pandemic. There was misinformation about social isolation and masks, as well as the promotion of drugs without scientific basis”, said Mr. Safadi, adding that Brazil has also been experiencing a similar situation.

However, adjusting the deaths for population size, the hardest hit countries on 29th December are Europeans.

The continent entered a second wave of the pandemic in November, when a new COVID-19 variant, part of the B.1.1.7 lineage, was discovered in the UK.

“We still do not know whether the high number of deaths is an effect of the new variant, or whether it reflects the behavior of people, who are already exhausted from following social isolation, or even whether it is a combination of the two factors," said Mr. Safadi.

Europe and America accumulated 88% of the total coronavirus deaths on 29th December, although the most populous countries in the world, China and India, are in Asia.

“In December, after a period of stabilization, Europe started to record more cases and deaths. These numbers were added to those registered in the United States and Brazil, which have not yet left the first wave”, said Dr. Raquel Stucchi, infectious disease doctor at Unicamp and consultant to the Brazilian Society of Infectious Diseases.

But the expert highlighted that it is impossible to know the exact dimension of the pandemic in terms of deaths and geolocation, as each country has its own methodology to confirm the cases.

A wave of grief

Contrary to expectations that the worst moment of the pandemic had passed, December was the coronavirus deadliest month across the world.

Sabila Khan followed the escalation in the number of deaths over the year.

The young woman from New Jersey lost her father, Shafqat Khan, 76, during the first wave of the pandemic, on 14th April.

“It was really traumatic because we couldn't be with him. We couldn't have a proper funeral for him. We had to watch it live-streamed on our phones”, she said.

Sabila and her father, Shafqat Khan. Source: family archive

Three days later, Sabila created a support group on Facebook for those who have experienced similar trauma. Today, more than five thousand people share their grief in the virtual space.

“I read a statistic somewhere that behind every COVID death there are nine family members and close friends who are left behind".

Nancy Abramson is one of the group members. She lost her father, Paul Abramson, on 23rd April, also in the US. She said that feels frustrated because people are still experiencing the same trauma nine months later.

"I am incredulous that people are experiencing exactly what I experienced. If you look at the stories, if you read the stories, they're going to be exactly the same: ‘well, he was kind of sick. He was sick, but it wasn't that sick. We brought him to the hospital and then he died’”.

From left to right:Nancy Horowitz, Richard Abramson, Nancy Abramson and Douglas Hertz. Seated, Paul Abramson. Source: family archive

For Gustavo Zucchi, who lost his grandmother Aparecida Pivotto Zucchi, 90, on 19th May in Brazil, people who do not experience this trauma "have become accustomed to the daily number of deaths” and fail to realize the scale of the tragedy.

“In a while, we will see the size of this tragedy. How many people died, how many celebrities and personalities died, how many friends will no longer be here”, he said.

If the world held a minute's silence for each person who died of coronavirus on 29th December, it would experience 10 muted days.

For the 1.8 million deaths recorded in 2020, it would be three years and four months in silence.


Between 11th-21st January 2020, national data comes from the World Health Organization (WHO).

From 22nd January 2020, national and local data come from the Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

Population data comes from the World Bank.

Data are based on reports at the time of publication on 10th January 2021. Officials may revise reports or give inaccurate information.

National and local updates are published at different times and time zones. It might lead to discrepancies between official numbers and JHU and WHO.

Total deaths are the cumulative number of reported deaths among confirmed coronavirus cases.