This Is How Deeply the Coronavirus Changed Our Behavior

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Twenty graphics that show how fear transformed human activity in 2020.

In early 2020 a deadly microscopic predator sent humans into hiding and slammed the brakes on global commerce. Economic destruction like this hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression. Here we illustrate the new coronavirus’s effects on basic metrics such as gross domestic product and unemployment, the collapse in demand for fuel, the rapid adoption of telehealth, and the surge in liquor purchases. This is a new economy built on fear.


The virus recession is expected to outstrip even the most pessimistic of early forecasts. With strict lockdowns in place across many major economies and a growing recognition that it will be a long path back to normality, Bloomberg Economics has revised its estimate for global contraction in 2020 to -4%, from earlier forecasts of -0.2% in March and growth of 3.3% at the start of the year.


As the global economy contracts, businesses are reducing costs through temporary and permanent job cuts. In the U.S., the world’s biggest economy, the percentage of people who are unemployed exploded from a 50-year low in February to the highest level since the Great Depression in April. Furloughs in Europe are helping limit job losses. But the outlook remains bleak for the world’s workers.

Unemployment Rises Around the World

The International Monetary Fund forecasts a surge in the annual unemployment rates of developed economies, including the U.S. Meanwhile, Germany and Japan are expected to fare better.

Off the Clock

The UN projects a widespread decline in hours worked as businesses shutter.

Europe Furloughs Huge Swaths of Its Workers

Millions have been temporarily laid off in Western Europe. The furloughs are designed to preserve jobs over the long run.

Women Will Suffer From the Gender Divide in Labor

Among workers in the informal economy, women hold a disproportionately large share of jobs in the fields most at risk of being affected by the pandemic, according to the International Labor Organization. Worldwide, 53% of women in the informal economy are in sectors deemed to be at risk of high to medium-high impact from the pandemic, compared with 44% of their male counterparts.

Pocketbook Voters

Workers in U.S. swing states have been hit hard before the election.

WFH Is for Top Earners

A majority of only the highest-paid U.S. workers can do their jobs remotely.

Where Robots Could Seize the Moment

When the global recovery begins, some businesses will automate operations, leaving workers in the lurch. Countries such as South Africa, Argentina, and Italy face a substantial blow to growth and have a high vulnerability to automation. When the recovery comes, some workers may find their jobs taken by robots.

Varying Value of Care

Nurses face peril everywhere but are compensated differently around the world.


Lockdowns gutted demand for fuel, and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia flooded the market, leading oil futures to turn negative in April. The historic move had dramatic consequences for companies and government balance sheets. Much now depends on whether the extreme changes to work, travel, and commerce are brief, temporary shifts or permanent readjustments.


Government efforts to keep people at home and slow the spread of the disease have stripped global oil demand.

Bottom of the Barrel

Excess crude drove U.S. futures into negative prices for the first time ever.

U.S. Drivers in Park, China in Gear

Americans stopped driving to the office and regularly filling up their tank. In China, people are driving more instead of taking public transportation.

Flyers Are Grounded

The number of U.S. airline passengers plummeted as the virus spread.

Earth Catches a Break

With oil use down, global emissions are forecast to fall (but rally with the recovery).


The pandemic has transformed the way we spend money. At the beginning of April, U.S. consumer confidence suffered a record weekly decline. Stores and malls are empty or closed, and online retailers are struggling with shortages. Instead of risking a visit to the doctor’s office, patients are starting to seek virtual advice. And many are self-medicating: Sales at U.K. alcohol stores jumped more than 30% in March.

Feeling Uneasy

Sentiment about the U.S. economy, buying climate, and personal finances fell.

Drop in the Shop

Lockdowns and social distancing rules kept consumers home.

Panic-Buying Depleted Online Supplies

Online shopping has been plagued by shortages since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to data compiled by market-research firm Euromonitor International. Inventories of disinfectants sold on e-commerce platforms dwindled as the virus spread.

The Doctor Is Online

The pandemic accelerated patient adoption of virtual care services.

Drinking Alone

Liquor stores, one of a few retail categories open under the U.K.’s lockdown, saw sales surge almost a third in March—the biggest monthly rise since January 2011.

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