Italy coronavirusItaly coronavirus

Train passengers are given a sanitary check in Salerno, Southern Italy, on Sunday, after the government announced the closure of Lombardy and 14 other provinces.

Ivan Romano/Getty Images

  • Since the coronavirus first emerged from Wuhan, China in December 2019, it has spread to more than 100 countries and infected thousands of people.
  • Cruise ships, hotels, and individuals have been put into quarantine in an effort to contain the virus.
  • However, several times and in several countries the official containment measures have been breached.
  • Given the rapid spread of the virus, it is hard to know which mistakes are inconsequential, and which could lead to many more infections.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

This week the coronavirus started to spread rapidly outside of China, ravaging markets and establishing itself as a global threat.

At the time of writing, more than 119,000 people have been infected in at least 100 countries and 4,200 people have died from the illness, mostly in China. Experts say we are on the brink of a pandemic. (For the latest numbers, see Business Insider’s live updates here.)

Various companies, governments, and health authorities have put into place sweeping measures to stop the virus spreading, like bans on travel, quarantines, or canceling events.

However — such measures rely on strictly following protocols. Whether through complacency, miscommunication, or incompetence, that has not always happened.

Here is a list of all the times something slipped through the net.

A disclaimer: Much is still unknown about the virus and exactly how it spreads. A single breach could lead to millions of extra infections, or zero. Many scientists think containment — even if perfectly executed — is ultimately futile.

The outbreak began in December 2019, and at first scientists did not realize what a disaster the new disease would be. During this period, Chinese officials discouraged “rumors” of a new virus, and punished a doctor who tried to spread word of it.

Li Wenliang

Li Wenliang, the doctor who sounded and early warning about the coronavirus and was punished.

AP Photo

Source: CNN

The doctor, Li Wenliang, later died fighting the outbreak in Wuhan.

People wearing masks, attend a vigil for Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, in Hong Kong, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. The death of a young doctor who was reprimanded for warning about China's new virus triggered an outpouring Friday of praise for him and fury that communist authorities put politics above public safety. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

A vigil for Li Wenliang, in Hong Kong, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.

Associated Press

Chinese social media was filled with outpourings of grief and anger after Li’s death, with many posts featuring the hashtag “We want freedom of speech”, according to Business Insider’s Sinéad Baker.

Complacency more broadly was a problem. Officials in Wuhan were slow to realise the severity of the outbreak, which came ahead of a travel rush at Lunar New Year. By the time the city was put on lockdown, many cases had been recorded elsewhere in China.

Patient in Wuhan hospital

A doctor treats a coronavirus patient in Wuhan, China, on February 25, 2020.

Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

As it became clear how serious the outbreak was, China’s central government fired officials in Wuhan and took the unusual step of publicly admitting its mistake.

The admission came from the Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful body of the Chinese Communist Party, Business Insider’s Lauren Frias reported.

In an official record of the meeting, published by Xinhua news agency, the committee said that the epidemic had exposed problems in its emergency management, which it promised to improve.

Source: Business Insider

There were mistakes elsewhere. In the UK a math teacher who lived in Wuhan but flew home on January 26. He said he wasn’t tested and that officials told him not to worry unless”he got the sniffles.”

china wet market 2019

A vendor works in a wet market in Hong Kong, China, August 16, 2019.

Ann Wang/Reuters

David Marland lived just five minutes from a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan which was ground zero for transmission of the virus.

He told Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that he was concerned about the official advice he was given.

There were problems too as the first US evacuees from Wuhan were flown home. Healthcare workers who met them on January 29 reportedly did so without appropriate protective gear or proper training.

US evacuees wuhan plane

Health workers meet evacuees from Wuhan, China, at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California on January 29, 2020.

Getty Images

The claim came from a whistleblower at the Department of Health and Human Services, and was not made public until almost a month later, in an article by The Washington Post.

For more than a week, the worst coronavirus hotspot outside China was a single cruise ship, the Diamond Princess. The entire ship was quarantined, and more and more people on board started to get sick.

diamond princess coronavirus japan ship

A member of the media wearing a face mask walks past the Diamond Princess cruise ship on February 2 at Daikoku Pier in Yokohama, Japan.

Carl Court/Getty Images

From the beginning of the quarantine, passengers reported a lack of information on the ship as well as concerns that their temperature screenings were not done properly, Business Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen reported.

At the time of writing, the ship has seen 705 cases of infected passengers, and four deaths.

Crew members finally left the coronavirus-stricken ship on Thursday, February 27 after weeks onboard.

An official at Japan’s ministry of health later admitted problems with the idea. An independent expert said it was “flawed” and the problems “completely predictable.”

princess diamond cruise ship coronavirus

Passengers on board the Diamond Princess on February 18, 2020, while it was docked at Yokohama, Japan.


At a press conference on February 24, Yosuke Kita, a senior coordinator at Japan’s Ministry of Health, said: “I admit, our isolation policy was not perfect. No place is perfect except in a hospital.”

“The whole idea of the cruise ship quarantine was ill-conceived, and the resultant slew of infections it spawned was completely predictable,” Dr. Amesh Adalja with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security previously told Business Insider.

Source: Business Insider

Eventually, authorities let people get off the ship. However, at least 23 of them had never been properly tested for the virus — prompting an embarrassing apology from Japan.

FILE PHOTO: A bus believed to carry the U.S. passengers of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, where dozens of passengers were tested positive for coronavirus, leaves the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A bus carrying Diamond Princess passengers leaves the terminal in Yokohama where the ship was docked.


Japanese health minister Katsunobu Kato apologized after a woman in her 60s tested negative, was allowed to leave, and later turned out to have had the virus.

She had already returned to her home in a suburb outside Tokyo, Japan, according to The Guardian.

The newspaper reported that Kato said that the ministry was trying to reach other passengers for retesting.

“We deeply apologize for the situation caused by our oversight. We will take all necessary measures, like double checks, to prevent a recurrence,” he said.

Another error linked to the ship came when the UK flew home its citizens who were aboard. Four people were cleared to fly home even though their tests were still at the lab. They all had the virus.

British Diamond Princess evacuees coronavirus

Evacuees from the Diamond Princess are driven from Boscombe Down airfield in rural England.

Getty Images

The other British evacuees who arrived with the infected passengers expressed their anger that those who tested positive were allowed to fly.

In a WhatsApp message seen by Sky News, one wrote: “They let them fly without the results, so they have put us in a position where we now could have it too.”

Testing errors hit the US too. A woman under quarantine in San Diego after arriving from Wuhan was accidentally released despite showing symptoms of the virus.

coronavirus LAX

Real Life. Real News. Real Voices

Help us tell more of the stories that matter

Become a founding member

A traveler wearing a medical mask at Los Angeles International Airport. She is not the woman who was quarantined in San Diego.

Getty Images

The patient was released from the UC San Diego Health center after initial test results found they had not to been infected, Business Insider reported.

But when the patient started showing symptoms and tested positive, they were sent back for observation and isolation.

In an email statement, published by the San Diego Union-Tribune, the university said that even though the infected evacuee was accidentally released, all proper protocols were followed.

“The patient left UC San Diego Health the same way they arrived, with all precautions taken,” it said.

It soon emerged that some coronavirus test kits didn’t work at all. Health officials in Hawaii announced that the CDC had sent them flawed equipment.

coronavirus lab tests

Airport authorities at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow check on passengers arriving from Beijing and Hong Kong.


Outside of Hawaii, the CDC admitted on February 12 that some coronavirus test kits sent to laboratories around the country did not work properly, according to the New York Times.

It is unclear how many of these tests were faulty, leading to heightened concerns about the effectiveness of using the tests to track the spread of disease, Business Insider’s Rosie Perper reported.

This appears to have been a wider problem, with the CDC admitting that it lost valuable weeks after attempting to devise its own test.

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo

A general view of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.


A ProbPublica investigation found that the CDC shunned official World Health Organization test guidelines by trying to create a more complicated test of its own which could also identify similar viruses.

It didn’t work as expected.

The lack of reliable tests prevented local officials from taking crucial first step in coping with a possible outbreak, ProPublica reported.

In South Korea, a controversial church went ahead with a mass wedding ceremony on February 20 despite rising numbers of cases.

coronavirus south korea

Workers in protective gear spray an anti-septic solution to fight the coronavirus in a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, on February 21, 2020.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

At the event, 6,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus were asked to “remove face masks while attending prayer sessions”, according to Business Insider.

South Korea now has the second-largest number of cases outside of China, many of them linked to the church.

Meanwhile, the spread of the coronavirus in Europe escalated when Italy reported a surge in cases.

rome italy coronavirus

People wearing protective masks walk past the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, February 25, 2020.

REUTERS/Remo Casilli

The two most infected regions are Lombardy and Veneto in the north of Italy, home to the major cities of Milan and Venice, Business Insider reported.

Italy has recorded the most infections outside of Asia.

Some of the blame has been put on a mistake by a hospital in the Lombardy region, which let the suspected first patient roam its premises for 36 hours.

Members of the Italian army wearing protective face masks check the permission of a driver to enter the red zone of Turano Lodigiano, closed off due to a coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy, in Turano Lodigiano, Italy, February 26, 2020.

Members of the Italian army wearing protective face masks at the perimeter of the quarantined town of Turano Lodigiano, February 26, 2020.

Yara Nardi / Reuters

According to a report by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the 38-year-old man was admitted to the emergency room in Codogno, Lombardy on February 19 with respiratory problems. 

During the 36-hour period in which he was waiting to be seen, the patient made contact with hospital staff and visiting friends and family.

Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, appeared to admit the fault of the Lombardy hospital Business Insider reported.

He told reporters Monday: “There has been a management of the hospital not entirely proper according to prudent protocols, which are recommended in these cases, and this has certainly contributed to the spread.”