Six months, six countries, six families — and one unrelenting, unforgiving epidemic

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For the rising actress in Hong Kong, who had broken free of the poverty of her peasant parents, 2020 began as a moment of hope. For the window cleaner in New Delhi, finally able to afford a new cellphone, the year’s start was a time of small advances. For the young nurse newly assigned to the coronary care unit of a Madrid hospital, it was a dawn of promise.

They had their troubles, of course, as did the sorbet hawker from a Rio de Janeiro slum run by drug lords, the publishing manager in Budapest nervous about rising authoritarianism and the single mother in Nairobi staying steps ahead of hunger and her HIV infection. But the concerns were familiar, the challenges of a kind that could be faced, or fought, or at least recognized.

Now, the new year was bringing a new peril.

An invisible menace emerging out of China was building into a wave that over the coming months would roll inexorably across a defenseless globe, swamping some while seeming to spare others, only to overwhelm them later. It would batter those hopes, amplify those woes and upend so many of life’s norms.

In far-flung corners of the Earth, six families, like millions of others, would struggle to ride out the wave as it crested and then receded and then threatened to rise again.

This account, detailed in dozens of interviews over several months, is their story — and the world’s.

— Reporting by Max Bearak, Rachel Cheung, Marina Lopes, Shibani Mahtani, Niha Masih, Loveday Morris and Pamela Rolfe. Photography by Maria Magdalena Arrellaga, Laurel Chor, Saumya Khandelwal, James Rajotte, Akos Stiller and Sarah Waiswa. Graphics by Harry Stevens.

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JANUARY

Hong Kong, Jan. 1

The first day of the year was a busy one for Karen Yip. She was juggling rehearsals for a play scheduled to open in just a few weeks and preparing for another that would tour dozens of schools. School theater workshops filled the rest of her calendar.

This was a life Karen, now 33, had dreamed of since her high school drama club.

Karen Yip, an actress who began disinfecting public buses during the pandemic as her theater work dried up, poses for a portrait in her neighborhood in the Sha Tin of Hong Kong. (Laurel Chor for the Washington Post)

Her career — her calling, really — marked a radical shift in her family’s history. Her father had fled to Hong Kong from a starving Chinese village during the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s. He rose from garment worker to owning three workshops, which he saw go bust in the 1980s. By the time Karen was in kindergarten, he was a street sweeper who scrimped on groceries and never stopped pleading with her to pursue something more secure than acting, even as she earned a master’s degree in drama.

She and her partner, Cheng Ka-chun, hustled parts in local plays, puppet shows and traveling productions. They could afford a 300-square-foot slice of Hong Kong’s real estate market, one of the world’s most expensive, which they shared with a 2-year-old son.

That would soon be in jeopardy. On that first day of the year, next door on the mainland, Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan had been closed for urgent cleaning after more than two dozen people who had been there were hospitalized with a perplexing pneumonia.

Hong Kong, remembering the 2003 SARS outbreak that rattled the city, watched nervously as the outbreak blew up on the mainland. On Jan. 28, the city closed its rail links to the mainland.

When the Lunar New Year vacation ended late in the month and Karen was preparing her workshops for returning students, she got word: Schools were closed. Rehearsals were canceled. Her income was gone.

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FEBRUARY

Madrid, Feb. 14

Total known cases worldwide: 66,908

Maria Maraver had begun her assignment as a coronary care nurse at Gregorio Marañón Hospital just a few weeks before the reports of a respiratory syndrome wreaking havoc in China caught her eye. On one level, she was intrigued. If the novel coronavirus ever reached Spain, she could imagine treating the infected. She was confident her hospital was well-equipped for it.

From left: Sisters Carla, Emma, and Maria Maraver Knowles sit for a portrait in their home in Torrelodones. The hospital where Maria works as a nurse offered hotel rooms to front-line workers, but her family wanted her to stay at home as long as she could decontaminate. (James Rajotte for The Washington Post)

At 25, Maria was part of an accomplished family from suburban Madrid. Her Arkansas-born mother, with the help of an older brother, ran a chain of stores selling imported American foods. One sister was a first-year medical student; the other was cramming for the medical school entrance exam. An academic interest in the distant epidemic was part of breakfast table chatter.

But their interest soon grew more immediate. Sixteen cases of coronavirus suddenly appeared in northern Italy. The outbreak had arrived in Europe.

Budapest, Feb. 17

Total known cases worldwide: 73,269

About 1,500 miles to the east in Hungary, Tamas Bodi and Melinda Biletics watched the news from Italy and thought of all the families on ski holiday there, some from the school where Melinda taught second grade and their two daughters were students.

The Bodi family poses for a portrait in their garden in Budapest. (Akos Stiller for The Washington Post)

The school’s headmaster asked parents who had visited the Alps to keep their children home for two weeks. But many ignored him, and Melinda knew the virus had a way into her classroom. For the first time, she said, she could feel the epidemic “on my skin.”

Tamas, 41, was a project manager for the publisher of HVG, a respected economic and political weekly, one of the few independent media outlets left under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Tamas dreaded the appearance of the coronavirus, not just as a health threat but also a political one. In Hungary, it was not hard to imagine a shutdown becoming a crackdown.

Nairobi, Feb. 19

Total known cases worldwide: 75,651

Hyrine Auma Mita, center, sits for a portrait with four of her children outside their home in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. From left: Sophie, Beryl, Daniel and Adongo. (Sarah Waiswa for The Washington Post)

Hyrine Auma Mita had yet to hear of coronavirus as she visited the small clinic in Kibera, the city’s biggest slum, where she lived. She had another virus on her mind: her long-standing HIV infection. The news at the clinic was good. The infection had fallen below detectable levels.

Finally, these were “good times,” said Hyrine, 33. She had five children in school and a job cleaning for a wealthy Indian family, earning enough to pay for her antiretroviral medicine. She lived in a one-room shack, barely the size of a king-size bed but still big enough if they moved the table aside when anyone had to pass. Her son Daniel, 16, had earned a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, a possible ticket for the family out of the slum.

It had been a long climb from the bottom of despair. Her husband, who had infected her with HIV, had died by suicide. His family then had kicked them out of the rural house they all shared. Days later, Daniel had knocked rat poison from Hyrine’s hand before it reached her lips. “Let us suffer until the end, but together,” said the boy, who was 10 at the time.

She had gone on to build a family of adoring children by herself. She was eating more than one meal a day. Her face wore an irrepressible smile, and the front door bore the sign “Happiest Family.”

Only two weeks later, an airplane from London would land in Nairobi, introducing a threat to the “good times” unlike any Hyrine could imagine.

New Delhi, Feb. 21

Total known cases worldwide: 76,840

Anar Singh, seated at left, is surrounded by family in the village of Mohammadpur, India. Singh worked in New Delhi but walked to his home village after India instituted its lockdown.

Manoj Kumar, second from left, sits at his home with his family in Firozabad, India, after traveling from New Delhi with his wife, Divya. (Saumya Khandelwal for The Washington Post)

Anar Singh, seated at left, is surrounded by family in the village of Mohammadpur, India. Singh worked in New Delhi but walked to his home village after India instituted its lockdown. Manoj Kumar, second from left, sits at his home with his family in Firozabad, India, after traveling from New Delhi with his wife, Divya. (Saumya Khandelwal for The Washington Post)

Manoj Kumar was leaving his job packing airline meals near Indira Gandhi International Airport when he noticed the white blurs behind the windshields speeding by on the airport road.

Masks, more and more of them, covering the faces of passengers.

A friend who worked at the airport said something about a mystery sickness. It seemed distant, foreign, nothing to distract Manoj from his family’s scramble from village poverty to the fragile stability of life in India’s sprawling capital.

Manoj, 25, and his wife, Divya, had been in the city six months, joining his cousin Anar Singh, who had moved five years earlier. After months of job hunting, Manoj was now packaging food and cutlery for $50 a week.

Anar, 35, had a steady job cleaning windows at the four-story Radisson Blu Plaza. He sent much of his $160 in monthly pay back to his parents, wife and children in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

The cousins both lived along a narrow street, where the open sewer was usually clogged with food waste. Anar slept on the floor of a room shared with two other men but was set to move to a better room. Manoj had just bought a new Chinese smartphone on monthly installments of $25. It all felt like progress.

But “Covid19” kept showing up on the WhatsApp messages that were their main source of news. Whole cities in China were in lockdown. The virus was vaulting borders and oceans in the lungs of travelers.

Manoj wrapped a handkerchief around his face. And he stopped meeting up with his friend from the airport.

Hong Kong, Feb. 24

Total known cases worldwide: 79,543

Karen Yip disinfects a bus in the Kowloon area of Hong Kong. The job was one of the few growth industries in Hong Kong amid the pandemic. (Laurel Chor for The Washington Post)

With two more infections confirmed among the passengers of the stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship, Hong Kong’s coronavirus cases bumped up to 81. It was still a modest tally, but the outbreak had already vaporized Karen’s life in the theater. Her hard-won career was on hold, but she still had to pay for rent and groceries.

All her job applications fell through until, desperate, she applied to one of the few growth industries: disinfecting public buses. The job was all grime and sweat, nine hours a day of the hard physical labor her father had hoped to save her from. During her first week, her cleaning cart rammed her leg, leaving her bloody and limping.

"It literally feels like hell,” said Karen, who despite her runner’s stamina and strength from practicing taekwondo was barely able to get through a day. “I didn’t expect that I would ever have to deal with this mess.”

She was too embarrassed to tell her father about her new job.

Rio de Janeiro, Feb. 25

Total known cases worldwide: 80,396

By the end of February, the wave had reached every continent but Antarctica. The coronavirus, according to official accounts, arrived in South America after stowing away in a Sao Paulo resident returning from Italy.

Three hundred miles up the coast, Rafaela Machado was lugging a heavy cooler of acai sorbet up and down a crowded Copacabana Beach. The mother of four made $400 a month, hustling the beaches by day, returning home to dodge the drug gang that ran her crammed hillside favela by night.

Rafaela Machado, 29, sits in her home in Rio de Janeiro. The mother of four made $400 a month selling sorbet on Copacabana Beach before the pandemic. (Maria Magdalena Arrellaga for The Washington Post)

Life was hard in the slum, but neighbors looked out for neighbors in a place where residents even had to run their own mail system because letter carriers wouldn’t dare enter.

Once, when Rafaela’s 3-year-old daughter had wandered off, the girl was scooped up by Carla “Momma Carlona” Pereira, a heavyset saloon owner who rarely budged from the doorway, where she spent the day watching her block and, in the view of many, mothering the neighborhood. Momma Carlona got word to the frantic Rafaela. All Rafaela could do was cry and thank her.

Now, Rafaela had no idea that favela life would soon get even harder. With coronavirus cases mounting rapidly in Italy and Iran and plateauing in China, Brazil was only just starting its climb to heights that would surpass them all and shake Rafaela’s world.

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MARCH

Budapest, March 2

Total known cases worldwide: 90,360

The Bodi family plays in their garden in Budapest. (Akos Stiller for The Washington Post)

The first two cases reported in Hungary were a pair of Iranian students. They were deported, as more than a dozen Iranian students would be in coming weeks. Tamas said it triggered a campaign of “xenophobic propaganda.”

As the number of cases climbed, Tamas and his wife took their girls out of school a week before it officially closed, and they limited shopping trips to once a week, wiping down every vegetable before bringing it into the house. They stopped using cash except for the bills they sterilized for the monthly rent. Melinda fretted about her husband’s intensity.

One afternoon, their daughter Csenga, 11, saw a friend from the building in the garden. Tamas pulled her back. “If you are going to try to play with her, we will go inside,” he warned.

The playmate’s mother sent him a text saying he was overdoing it.

“I got paranoid,” he said.

Madrid, March 11

Total known cases worldwide: 126,547

The World Health Organization’s declaration of the coronavirus as a pandemic confirmed what many already knew. Three days later, Maria was transferred to an intensive care unit urgently readied at the hospital for covid-19 patients. The sick were pouring in. Doctors and nurses were responding on the fly to a threat they didn’t really understand.

Maria had only just arrived in the isolation unit when a patient was wheeled in, already intubated. She scrambled into a white protective suit and donned an FFP3 mask, the hospital’s best.

“We talked about it like we were at war,” she recalled.

Maria would often go an entire frenzied shift without eating or visiting the bathroom, trapped in a suit that was stifling and constricting, emerging hours later emotionally gutted.

Maria lost her first patient within days. She had never seen death as wrenching as that in these last moments of isolation, with no final human touch, the family that should have been bedside reduced to pixels on an iPad, farewells over a phone.

The hospital offered hotel rooms to front-line workers, but Maria’s family wanted her to stay at home so long as she could decontaminate. “She needs to be with us,” her mother, Dana, said. Maria would leave her shoes outside a side door leading straight into her bedroom and step right into the shower.

The Maraver Knowles family walks in their neighborhood in Torrelodones, Spain, northwest of Madrid. From left: Dana Knowles, 53; Alex Maraver Knowles, 28; Emma Maraver Knowles, 20; Emma Maraver Bejarano, 3; and Julia Maraver Bejarano, 7. (James Rajotte for The Washington Post)

“Hi, how was your day?” Dana asked one afternoon when Maria arrived home from an early shift.

“Fine,” Maria answered.

But when Dana looked, the tears were already streaming over the mask lines still visible on her daughter’s face.

“I had cried multiple times,” Maria would say later. “But that was the first and only time I cried in front of them.”

New Delhi, March 16

Total known cases worldwide: 183,597

A few days after the Hindu festival of Holi, there was a problem at Anar’s hotel. Several members of an Australian tourist group had fallen ill. Fearing covid-19, the cleaners refused to enter their rooms until they had been disinfected by pest-control workers. Anar was anxious. He needed the job to support his family but feared for his life.

Less than a week later, the number of cases in India was spiking. On March 24, with just four hours’ notice, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day lockdown of the entire country.

Anar’s hotel emptied within hours. His manager couldn’t say when he would call back the workers. India had also banned almost all air travel, and Manoj’s job at the airport was gone too. Neither was paid his March salary. They had about $15 between them.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, resigned to going back to their village 190 miles away, Divya put a pair of undergarments in her purse. Manoj put flatbread and a bottle of water into a plastic bag. They met Anar and Divya’s sister, Payal, and the four began to walk.

Rio de Janeiro, March 24

Total known cases worldwide: 425,559

Beachgoers are seen June 13 at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Beaches in the city filled up on the first weekend of reopening, despite orders restricting beach access. (Maria Magdalena Arrellaga for The Washington Post)

With Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dismissing the coronavirus as a “little flu” and belittling social distancing measures, the gangs that govern Rio’s vast slums stepped in. In Pavão-Pavãozinho, Rafaela’s labyrinthine neighborhood, it was the Red Command that ordered residents to wear masks, told businesses to close and barred outsiders from entering, even to buy cocaine or marijuana.

Rafaela had continued pounding the beach with her cooler, in violation of the city’s new curfew orders, until the last customer was gone. “My biggest worry was rent,” she recounted. “Without income, how am I going to feed six people?”

She took the only job available: working for the local residents association to distribute food in coordination with the drug cartel. A year before, she and her son had been caught in a cartel shootout walking home from school. It terrified her to get so close to the gang.

On a road outside New Delhi, March 26

Total known cases worldwide: 539,336
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On March 27, Payal Kumari, Manoj Kumar's sister-in-law, filmed this video from a road outside New Delhi on the journey to Uttar Pradesh.

It was rainy as the four set out for Uttar Pradesh, joining an estimated 5 million other Indians, many suddenly unemployed, who had begun a mass migration home. At least a half a million were on foot. After hours of walking, they came across a mob piling into a bus, but they didn’t have the $6.50 for spots riding on the roof.

The four finally persuaded a truck driver to let them hitch a ride for part of the way and crammed into a cab built for two. Climbing down, they ate their only dinner: two chunks of bread apiece.

In the dark, Anar got separated from the others. He searched fruitlessly for an hour and then kept going, walking through the night.

When he reached his home village of Mohammadpur the next afternoon, after a day and a half on the march, the seams of his shoes were split wide. He couldn’t walk for two days, but he knew he was lucky to have made it. Many who had trekked out of India’s cities had been left stranded, injured or dead.

A view of Anar's village, Mohammadpur. (Saumya Khandelwal for The Washington Post)

Hong Kong, March 29

Total known cases worldwide: 730,921

By the end of the month, after taking every available daytime shift disinfecting buses and also cleaning hotels and offices when her company asked, Karen had made almost $1,300, close to her earnings in the theater. But with her partner out of work, this barely covered the rent. With each bus and bathroom she sterilized, the life of an artist seemed further away.

And with coronavirus cases now spiking in her city, the end of the epidemic seemed no closer either.

Karen helps her 2-year-old son, Jameson, with his homework at their home in Sha Tin.

Toys are displayed on a shelf in Karen’s home. (Laurel Chor for The Washington Post)

Karen helps her 2-year-old son, Jameson, with his homework at their home in Sha Tin. Toys are displayed on a shelf in Karen’s home. (Laurel Chor for The Washington Post)

Karen started working nights, breast-feeding her son before heading out. But the boy threw tantrums, and Ka-chun begged her to cut back her hours. Karen felt the weight of supporting them all. Home life had become “disastrous,” she said.

Budapest, March 30

Total known cases worldwide: 795,560

Faced with an escalating outbreak, the Hungarian parliament granted Orbán open-ended powers to rule by decree. Tamas followed the developments with growing dismay, scouring news websites for details. The emergency decree, he noted, gave the government power to jail journalists for coverage deemed “misleading.”

He was already careful about his social media posts, but now he was even more worried about Hungary’s democracy.

Inside the family’s second-floor apartment, located near the Danube River, Tamas and Melinda worked to create a safe and rich shutdown experience for their girls. They practiced piano and recreated classic paintings as part of an online art challenge.

Melinda Bodi prepares to teach her class in Budapest on May 19, following the closures of schools. (Akos Stiller/for The Washington Post)

Melinda set up a home studio in front of the bookshelves for daily Zoom classes with her second-graders. She also cooked and oversaw the shopping. Tamas overheard her say in a meeting that she felt like the family “servant.”

Money worries were growing because Tamas’s pay had been cut by 20 percent as the economy stalled. The family discussed whether Tamas was adding to the household tension by being so strict.

“Yes, yes, yes,” said 13-year-old Hanga.

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APRIL

Nairobi, April 1

Total known cases worldwide: 948,197

Hyrine and her children have breakfast, consisting of leftover ugali from dinner and black tea. (Sarah Waiswa for The Washington Post)

Kenya had reported only one covid-19 death by the start of April. But the economic shock wave was already decimating poor families like Hyrine’s. The Indian family she cleaned for — one of the few who would employ an HIV-positive woman — had fled because of the pandemic.

The government imposed sanitary and social distancing measures, which were all but impossible to observe in the slums, along with an evening curfew. And when Hyrine finally found a job, sandpapering walls in houses being built in a gated community, the curfew restricted her working hours and her pay. At the end of the day, when she would return home with her face coated in white dust, there was often no proper dinner for the family. “That means maybe we drink porridge instead of having a meal,” said her daughter Catherine, 13.

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Hyrine Auma Mita has insisted that her son, Daniel, stay at home to study. Before the coronavirus forced schools to close in Nairobi, Daniel was a star student.

Even when the schools were shut down and Daniel moved back in, Hyrine insisted he maintain his studies rather than go to work. If he got a job now, she feared it could be a slippery slope. The family’s future depended on the children somehow keeping up their education.

But she already could feel the dream slipping away.

Rio de Janeiro, April 14

Total known cases worldwide: 1,985,472

By the middle of the month, Brazil’s Health Ministry had reported more than 25,000 cases. Bolsonaro fired his health minister days later, pledging to bring in someone who would quickly reopen business. Within another two weeks, Brazil’s cases had more than tripled, surpassing China’s total.

In Rafaela’s slum, the cartel tightened its grip, announcing an 8 p.m. curfew. Notices appeared: “Anyone caught not wearing a mask will have to answer to the cartel.”

Rafaela works alongside her cousin, Patricia Machado, 28, at the local neighborhood association. Food distribution is coordinated with the drug cartel that controls the neighborhood. (Maria Magdalena Arrellaga for The Washington Post)

Several times a day, Rafaela radioed cartel members, asking permission to deliver donated food around the neighborhood. But donations from wealthy neighborhoods were drying up. “Everyone is hungry,” she said. It broke Rafaela’s heart when neighbors begged for help she couldn’t give. Others complained about the amount she delivered.

She was interacting ever more closely with the commanders of the drug gang, getting to know them far better than she wanted to.

“I’m afraid,” she said. “Every day that passes, I end up more involved.”

Hong Kong, April 17

Total known cases worldwide: 2,250,737

Karen’s bus disinfection equipment sits on a sidewalk in Kowloon. (Laurel Chor for the Washington Post)

Karen’s partner, Ka-chun, had been looking unsuccessfully for work for weeks when her company announced it needed someone to fill in on the bus disinfecting team. His “machismo” made him dismissive of cleaning work, and he had resisted doing something a woman could, Karen said. “Especially if I can do it.”

But they were desperate for the money.

She noted how sweaty and red-faced he was upon returning from his first day. “He insisted it was really easy, just a piece of cake,” she recalled.

Mohammadpur, April 20

Total known cases worldwide: 2,478,129
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After returning home to Mohammadpur, India, Anar Singh has been working on his father’s six-acre plot to help harvest wheat for flatbread.

Anar’s shoes were still broken when he headed into his father’s six-acre plot to help harvest wheat for flatbread. Along with a final cache of lentils and a few kilograms of government-issued rice, it was their only food. Without Anar’s income, provisions were dwindling.

They all stayed in his father’s three-room house with no toilet and electricity only a few hours a day. With temperatures above 100 degrees, most slept on the roof.

The epidemic in India was accelerating, with more than 1,500 new cases a day. Manoj and Anar, so determined to climb out of rural poverty, could feel their foothold growing more tenuous.

Anar works in the fields in Mohammadpur.

Smoke rises from a brick kiln near Mohammadpur. (Saumya Khandelwal for The Washington Post)

Anar works in the fields in Mohammadpur. Smoke rises from a brick kiln near Mohammadpur. (Saumya Khandelwal for The Washington Post)

They called back to Delhi every day to see when they could return to their jobs. Anar had to borrow his father’s phone after his 3-year-old daughter accidentally dropped his in a bucket of water.

He was still owed back pay from his work at the hotel, but the contractor said the lockdown made it impossible to deposit the money at the bank. So Anar hadn’t paid the rent for his New Delhi room for two months, and he knew he was close to losing it.

Working in the fields left him sore and spent, and he wasn’t sure he was up to doing other manual village work, such as breaking bricks. But, he said, “that day may not be far off.”

Madrid, April 25

Total known cases worldwide: 2,890,259

It wasn’t long before the epidemic outran Spain’s ability to safely protect those fighting it. European officials reported that health-care workers accounted for 20 percent of new cases in Spain. Hospital staff blamed a growing shortage of protective gear.

At Maria’s hospital, managers told her to start saving the top-strength FFP3 masks for treating only the most contagious patients. Then, soon after, she was instructed to use weaker masks for all cases. Some days, there were no new masks at all.

On television, Maria saw the nightly applause across Spain for doctors and nurses. But it wasn’t backed up by action. She and her colleagues were giving their all without being afforded the most basic protections. Television had also aired images of Spanish nurses donning garbage bags because protective suits had run out.

“We feel completely abandoned,” she said. “A lot of people we work with die.”

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MAY

Budapest, May 3

Total known cases worldwide: 3,513,207
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Csenga Bodi, 11, attends math class from her room in May. Her school switched to distance learning in March.

Nairobi, May 6

Total known cases worldwide: 3,759,295

Hyrine navigates her way through the alley outside her home in Kibera. (Sarah Waiswa for The Washington Post)

Total infections in Kenya were still relatively modest, but one section of the city had been identified as a growing hot spot. The government put it under total lockdown. Hyrine’s construction job was gone.

To help her out, a family from her church gave her some flour. Another congregant said she could pick spinach in her garden. Hyrine parsed the food carefully, deciding when to skip meals.

More ominously, Hyrine could no longer buy her HIV medicine. The hospital where she was registered to get it had run out because of supply disruptions arising from the pandemic. Because she couldn’t afford to pay her outstanding bill, the hospital refused to transfer her case to another clinic that might have the medicine.

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“My mom is actually facing a lot of challenges, being that my mom is HIV positive.”

– Daniel

Even then, she would have confronted a choice between her health and her family.

“If I am being honest, even if they had it in stock, I would have to stop buying food in order to afford it,” she said.

Rio de Janeiro, May 11

Total known cases worldwide: 4,176,020

Rafaela puts her youngest daughter, Ana Beatriz, to sleep at their home in Rio de Janeiro. (Maria Magdalena Arrellaga for The Washington Post)

Rafaela could feel death and desperation closing in. The number of cases in Brazil had nearly doubled during the first 11 days of May and would double again by the end of the month, leaving about 30,000 people dead.

One of Rafaela’s neighbors, Dilson Gomes, died in the second week of May.

Then, a few days later, she glanced at her phone. She stopped and stared and didn’t want to believe the text: Momma Carlona was dead. After about a week in the hospital, she had succumbed to the virus. Her weight, heart problems and difficulty breathing had made her an easy mark.

“Carlona came to my rescue when I needed it most,” Rafaela said with dull grief. She said she would remember Momma Carlona “by her smile and her contagious happiness.”

The cartel shot off fireworks to honor the neighborhood icon. But with hunger stalking the favela, it wasn’t possible for Rafaela to take the day off from work to mourn.

“We can’t stop,” Rafaela said wearily. “She wouldn’t have wanted us to.”

Rio de Janeiro, May 13

Total known cases worldwide: 4,344,370
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“When I arrived [home], I took my clothes off, took a shower to hug and kiss and breastfeed my daughter.”

– Rafaela

Hong Kong, May 13

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Karen Yip, an actor forced to find work outside her theater when coronavirus closed its doors, makes props for an upcoming YouTube show geared toward children.

Karen pulled nylon strings from the dripping black dye. They would make perfect puppet hair. After four months, theater life was stirring, sort of. Ka-chun was rehearsing for a show that would pay no salary and play to a house with every other seat empty.

Hong Kong was gradually loosening up, allowing slightly larger public gatherings and planning to reopen schools by month’s end.

Karen performs in a filmed shadow puppet show in Hong Kong.

Karen performs in a filmed shadow show. (Laurel Chor for The Washington Post)

Karen performs in a filmed shadow puppet show in Hong Kong. Karen performs in a filmed shadow show. (Laurel Chor for The Washington Post)

Karen and Ka-chun were still disinfecting vehicles. But each evening, she rushed off to make props or rehearse her upcoming children’s show. She spent late nights with her small drama troupe. She signed up to recreate scenes for a documentary on the 1989 protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, brutally repressed by the Chinese government.

In Hong Kong, returning to normal meant confronting Beijing’s ever-growing shadow. Protesters would return to the streets later in the month for the first time. But citing coronavirus fears, authorities had banned the annual June commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Karen feared they might survive the pandemic only to lose their freedom.

Mohammadpur, May 16

Total known cases worldwide: 4,629,637
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Anar Singh watches television at night in his village in Mohammadpur, India, on June 9.

Anar was frightened by the perils posed by the epidemic, but he knew his future would depended on salvaging the life he’d been building in Delhi and he was getting impatient.

The virus, however, was showing no signs of slowing down. Back in Delhi, there had been several infections on the very street where Anar and Manoj had lived. Uttar Pradesh had sealed its border with the capital. Anar’s father and wife urged him to stay put.

Nairobi, May 19

Total known cases worldwide: 4,892,854
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Daniel, Hyrine Auma Mita’s oldest child, filmed on May 19 his mother walking around Nairobi in search of work.

Madrid, May 25

Total known cases worldwide: 5,490,388
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Spain’s first day of phase 1 was May 25, which allowed Dana Knowles to reopen outdoor seating to customers at The Cookie Lab.

Madrid, May 26

Total known cases worldwide: 5,582,910

Maria begins a nursing shift at Gregorio Marañón Hospital in Madrid. (James Rajotte for The Washington Post)

After a long struggle, Spain had turned the corner. The country’s daily death toll had dropped below a hundred for the first time in two months.

Maria’s hospital mothballed the coronavirus unit and sent her back to her old assignment in coronary care.

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“It’s nice to see that we are going back to normal again.”

– Maria

But it was hard for Maria to let it all go: the top-speed intensity, the hours grappling with life and death, the foxhole camaraderie. She was stamped by the times she and her colleagues lined the corridor to excitedly applaud a survivor leaving the isolation unit and the brief pauses to grieve those who never would.

Spain had allowed some nonessential workers back to work, and groups of up to 10 were permitted to walk and exercise together. But it was jarring for Maria to see many people packing cafes and sidewalks.

“We put our lives on hold for this, and then people forget what we went through,” she said.

She was infuriated. She saw the rules as a thin line of sandbags holding back a second wave.

Budapest, May 30

Total known cases worldwide: 6,053,134
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Post-quarantine, the Bodis made a trip to Pécs, two hours south of Budapest, to visit their daughters’ grandparents. Here the family gardens together.

Seven-day rolling average of daily reported cases worldwide
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JUNE

Budapest, June 1

Total known cases worldwide: 6,256,493

Tamas Bodi plays with his daughters, Csenge and Hanga, in Lake Balaton on a family visit to Zamardi, Hungary. (Akos Stiller for The Washington Post)

As the year approached its halfway mark and reported deaths worldwide neared half a million, the global wave was swelling to unprecedented heights in Latin America, South Asia and the United States, even as it continued to recede in parts of Asia and Europe.

In Hungary, a summer vacation now seemed possible, and Tamas began planning trips to the grandparents and camps on Excel spreadsheets. They even pondered a holiday in Croatia or Serbia.

Virus fears faded from the headlines and the Bodis’ routine. Tamas’ mother came to help with kids and shopping; he was pretty sure she didn’t disinfect the produce at all. They had their first meal out at a local inn.

The government announced plans to rescind the emergency law giving Orbán expanded powers. But Tamas was more worried than ever, fearing this might not actually rein them in.

Hong Kong, June 7

Total known cases worldwide: 6,993,970

Karen and Jameson walk to a taxi near their home in Sha Tin. (Laurel Chor for The Washington Post)

Karen finally had a week when she spent every day crafting plays and puppets without disinfecting a single bus.

She was back in pursuit of a middle-class artistic life, which now seemed threatened less by the coronavirus than the tightening restrictions imposed by Beijing, including a national security law that, among other things, would let Chinese security agencies operate in the city.

Karen never did tell her father about her job cleaning buses, and she planned to keep taking a couple shifts a week. She wanted to make sure she would be employed if the epidemic returned, and she valued what she had learned of endurance. “I think I have gained something,” she said. Her newfound strength could help her resist China’s threat.

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Karen Yip filmed herself and her colleagues at their workplace in Hong Kong on June 8.

Madrid, June 12

Total known cases worldwide: 7,621,346

Maria helps her mother, Dana, at the family business on a day off from nursing. (James Rajotte for The Washington Post)

Maria’s managers gave her a month’s vacation to make up for all the overtime she had worked. Before taking off, she joined several of her colleagues for a beer near the hospital. They were still leery, and the gathering broke up quickly.

She also got to celebrate her sister’s high school graduation with several of her friends. They watched the online ceremony projected on the living room wall.

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Dana Knowles’s youngest daughter, Carla, celebrated her graduation virtually on June 11. Like her older sisters, Carla wishes to pursue a career in medicine.

She welcomed the return of a normal life, even as she was unable to forget what she had seen. If the coronavirus were to return, she said she was ready to face it like a veteran. “I think this made me tougher in some way.”

Nairobi, June 13

Total known cases worldwide: 7,755,445

The global wave has left families around the world forever marked by the strain of uncertainty and the pain of lockdown, by sickness and death. But it has not crashed upon their communities with equal force. For the rich, the road back has often been clearer. For those in the lowlands of poverty, the wave has left more lasting devastation.

In Kenya, the pandemic continued to press in on Hyrine. Her slum, Kibera, was reporting hundreds of new infections and had become synonymous with the coronavirus across the city.

Hyrine and her five children now expected to share their cramped shack through the end of the year, the earliest that Daniel’s boarding school would reopen. Unless they were evicted before then. They were three months behind on rent.

A nurse administers an injection to Hyrine at a clinic in Nairobi. (Sarah Waiswa for The Washington Post)

Hyrine was now sick and unable to work. A doctor diagnosed her with a urinary tract infection, common in the Nairobi slums, where women often share a pot to avoid paying for the public toilet. “I can’t treat you until you pay,” the doctor said. That would mean more begging and more shame.

Without Hyrine’s knowledge, her son Michael, 13, had been taking money from neighbors for food and the toilet fee, falsely promising that his mother would return it. When Daniel found out, the two boys came to blows.

The once-tight family bonds were fraying. Their diet, at times, had been reduced to nothing but cabbage. Between her illness, missing her anti-viral meds and the humiliation of begging, her life was once again frighteningly precarious.

Rio de Janeiro, June 25

Total known cases worldwide: 9,583,608

Rafaela arrives home from work to her cousin and nephews in Rio de Janeiro. (Maria Magdalena Arrellaga for The Washington Post)

The death toll continued to soar as Brazil became a new epicenter of the global epidemic, exceeding more than a million reported cases.

Yet all around Rafaela were those who had no choice but to venture out and look for work. Shops and cafes were reopening. But the risks seemed too great. “When I turn on the television and I see the scale of the problem, I get worried,” she said.

She felt the walls closing in, trapped in a job linked to the cartel that frightened her more all the time as drug buyers crept back into the neighborhood and tensions flared amid rising joblessness and hunger.

New Delhi, June 29

Total known cases worldwide: 10,273,510
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“It’s better to stay at home [in the village] and live simply.”

– Anar Singh

Three weeks after India began reopening as lockdown restrictions eased, coronavirus infections were surging. The country was adding more than 10,000 reported cases every day, faster than anywhere on Earth but Brazil and the United States.

Manoj returned to Delhi and spent days walking among shuttered factories looking for employment. Even the shop that used to let him buy lentils on credit was closed.

Manoj thought of trekking back to the village, but Anar was having no more luck there. His employer had deposited $26 of his back wages. Anar spent most of it on food, new shoes and diarrhea medicine for his daughter. He wasted $5 on cellphone repairs that didn’t work.

On a scorching June afternoon, Anar sorted through what was left of the life he once knew and realized there was no longer money for his daughter’s school fees. Gone were her bright job prospects, her favorable marital prospects. So much promise washed away.

“This disease has destroyed everything,” Anar said. “Not just our lives, but also the future of our children.”

Manoj heads to his temporary rental in Noida, India. (Saumya Khandelwal for The Washington Post)

Steve Hendrix

Jerusalem bureau chief Steve Hendrix has written for just about every section of the paper since coming to the Washington Post 20 years ago, reporting from the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia and most corners of the United States.

Shibani Mahtani

Shibani Mahtani is the Southeast Asia correspondent for The Washington Post, covering countries that include the Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia. She joined The Post's foreign desk in 2018 after seven years as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Southeast Asia and later in Chicago, where she covered the Midwest.

Niha Masih

Niha Masih is an India-based correspondent for The Washington Post based in New Delhi. Before joining The Post in 2019, she reported on politics, conflict and religious fundamentalism in India for Hindustan Times and New Delhi Television (NDTV).

Loveday Morris

Loveday Morris is The Washington Post's Berlin bureau chief. She was previously based in Jerusalem, Baghdad and Beirut for The Post.

Marina Lopes

Marina Lopes was a reporter based in Brazil for The Washington Post. Before joining the paper, she reported for Reuters in Mozambique, New York and Washington. She left The Post in June 2020.

Max Bearak

Max Bearak is The Washington Post's Nairobi bureau chief. Previously, he reported from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Somalia and Washington, D.C., for The Post, following stints in Delhi and Mumbai reporting for the New York Times and others.

Harry Stevens

Harry Stevens joined The Washington Post as a graphics reporter in 2019.

About

Data on worldwide cases and deaths is from Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering and the World Health Organization.

Video editing by Joyce Lee, Jason Aldag and Alexa Juliana Ard. Photo editing by Chloe Coleman and Olivier Laurent. Copy editing by Matt Schnabel. Design and development by Lucio Villa.

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