More People Are Under Lockdown Now Than Were Alive During World War II

In a single announcement on Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi almost doubled the planet’s tally of people who have been placed under lockdown to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.

His strict order to the nation’s 1.3 billion people to stay home brings the global number of people under some form of lockdown to around 2.6 billion — one-third of the human population, according to Agence France-Presse. That’s more humans than were even alive to witness World War II.

The virus has infected a reported 425,000, and killed 18,900 people, with many more suspected to be infected but unconfirmed. The accuracy of reported infections varies hugely from country to country due to political complications and how widespread the country’s testing policy is.

But outside of those grim statistics, on the level of daily life, it has become difficult to quantify the sheer scale of the impact the coronavirus has had on the human population in the few short weeks since the earliest case emerged some time around mid-November 2019.


Coronavirus california los angeles lockdown
A woman sits at Corona Heights Park, on the third day of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s implemented statewide “stay at home order” directing the state’s 40 million residents to stay in their homes in the face of the fast-spreading coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in San Francisco, California, U.S. March 22, 2020.


Global governments have reacted with varying forms of restriction that now affect roughly one in three of the human population and which affect everything from transport, commerce, social gatherings, and in many cases the ability to leave one’s home at all.

“Lockdown” is not a technical term, but is increasingly used to describe anything from a mandatory full quarantine, to non-mandatory recommendations halting businesses and events or telling people to stay home, as Lindsay Wiley, a health law professor at the Washington College of Law, told Vox.

The numbers of people affected today dwarf even the largest-scaled events that come to mind. The two largest global conflicts in human history — the first and second world wars — were fought by a combined total of around 135 million, according to EncyclopaediaBritannica.

In 1940, the world population was 2.3 billion, according to the United States Census Bureau — still less than the number of people under lockdown today.


FILE PHOTO: Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in their holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 8, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali/File Photo
Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in their holy city of Mecca. Around 2.5 million people travel annually for the pilgrimage.



Other mass-scaled events, such as human migrations, also provide a poor metric by which to measure the current coronavirus impact.



The combined estimated number of people traveling for the world’s largest annual human migrations — Chinese New Year, Prayagraj Kumbh Mela in India, Thanksgiving in the US, and the Islamic pilgrimages of Arba’een and the Hajj — is 690.5 million, according to Statista. Those numbers, of course, were gathered before the Chinese government began to cancel New Year festivities in 2020 to stem the spread of the virus.

One of the only comparable human events to affect people on this scale happens to be the 1918-19 Spanish Flu. Though the situation is very different in epidemiological terms, one common point is the extent of its reach compared to the global population. The virus infected one-third of the population, which at this time was around 500 million.

Today, perhaps this one-third of humanity under lockdown can at least be thankful the statistic doesn’t refer to infections — yet.


Manhattan lockdown
An empty street is seen in Manhattan borough following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York City, U.S., March 15, 2020.


These are countries currently imposing some form of stay-at-home order, or business and events closure order, and how many people each involves*:

  • Argentina, population 45.5 million: Citizens only allowed to leave homes for essential services, enforced by police, until March 31.
  • Australia, population 24.9 million: Non-essential businesses closed and parents given the option to keep children out of school.
  • Belgium, population 11.4 million: Citizens asked to stay home other than for essential services, with lockdown estimated to continue until at least mid-May.
  • China (Wuhan), population 11 million, according to state media: Citizens asked to stay home other than for essential services. The quarantine is expected to lift on April 8, according to CNN. 16 other cities in the same province of Hubei were also under lockdown until Wednesday.
  • Colombia, population 49.7 million: Quarantine limiting population movement except for essential services, until April 11, with those over 70 asked to stay home until the end of May, according to the BBC.
  • Denmark, population 5.8 million: No groupings of over 10 people, and schools, libraries, restaurants, and other businesses closed.
  • France, population 66.9 million: Citizens asked to stay home other than for essential services, until at least the end of March.
  • Germany (Bavaria), population 12.9 million, according to the European Commission: 16 of Germany’s states have restricted businesses and public gatherings. But Bavaria has gone further and forbidden citizens from leaving their homes without good reason until at least April 4, according to Politico.
  • India, population 1.3 billion: A “total ban on venturing out of your homes,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, until at least April 21, according to CNN.
  • Ireland, population 4.9 million: Education, cultural, and childcare facilities closed, and limits on the number of people at social events.
  • Israel, population 8.9 million: Citizens asked to stay home except for food and medicine, with potential to empower police enforcement.
  • Italy, population 60.4 million: Nationwide lockdown affecting nearly all forms of public life.
  • Jordan, population 9.9 million: Citizens unable to leave home at all, with potential punishment of life imprisonment if disregarded.
  • Kenya, population 51.4 million: Schools, pubs and restaurants closed.
  • Kuwait, population 4.1 million: Citizens prohibited from visiting restaurants and gyms, no commercial flights, and an evening curfew.
  • Malaysia, population 31.5 million: Travel in and out of the country banned, large gatherings canceled and non-essential businesses shut down.
  • Morocco, population 36 million: No international flights, and mosques, schools and restaurants closed.
  • New Zealand, population 4.9 million: Citizens asked to stay home until at least the end of April.
  • Norway, population 5.3 million: Ports, airports and schools closed, cultural events cancelled, and non-Nordic visitors under automatic quarantine, until April 15, according to The Local.
  • Poland, population 37.9 million: Bars and restaurants closed, no foreigners to enter the country, and incoming people subject to automatic quarantine, until April 11.
  • South Africa, population 57.8 million: Under lockdown until at least April 15.
  • Spain, population 46.7 million: Under full lockdown until Friday, with the possibility of extension.
  • UK, population 66.5 million: Citizens asked to stay home except for essential services.
  • US, partial lockdown for 75 million Americans: The United States is proceeding on a state by state, city by city basis for its 327 million citizens.








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