More People Are Now in ‘Lockdown’ 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.

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-scale 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.

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 travelling 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.

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

For more extensive detail on these countries’ lockdowns, see Business Insider’s coverage here.

*All population estimates from World Bank Open Data unless otherwise stated.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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