Huge tunnel network creates new railway link through the Alps

By Ben Jones, CNN

Thousands of feet beneath the Swiss Alps, a massive engineering project years in the making is reaching its final stages after a huge new tunnel was opened.

The Ceneri Base Tunnel, just short of 25 miles in length, is the final section of a new high-speed, high-capacity railway that plunges deep under the mountains of Europe in an effort to drastically reduce transport times across the continent.

It’s a landmark moment in the development of trans-Alp rail links which are set to become operational in December 2020. “It’s the last part of the puzzle,” Vincent Ducrot, the chief executive of Swiss Federal Railways, told reporters at an opening ceremony last week, according to Reuters. “The goal to have a flat line through the Alps has been achieved.”

The CBT, one of a trio of new tunnels, creates an uninterrupted rail route from the Dutch North Sea port of Rotterdam to the Italian city of Genoa on the Mediterranean.

At its heart is the world’s longest railway tunnel — the 35-mile-long (or 57-kilometer) Gotthard Base Tunnel.

Everything about this $11.3 billion project is on a grand scale; at their deepest point, the GBT’s twin tunnels are around 8,000 feet below the Alpine peaks. More than 2,500 people worked on its construction, carving and blasting their way through almost 30 million tonnes of granite before laying almost 250 miles of steel rails and installing thousands of miles of cables for power, signaling and communications systems.

With cross passages between the main tunnels every 1,066 feet, access tunnels and shafts the total length of the tunnel system is more than 95 miles.

Excavation of the two 35-mile running tunnels was completed in 2011 and employed a combination of traditional drilling/blasting and massive tunnel boring machines with 32-foot diameter cutting faces and miles of conveyor belts to carry rock away for recycling.

Excavation on this scale generated extraordinary quantities of rock and spoil; the rock from the Gotthard tunnels alone would have filled a train of wagons stretching from Zurich to Chicago — a distance of 4,440 miles.

A further eight million tonnes has been excavated from the new Ceneri Base Tunnel further south.

Deep within the tunnels, two cavernous “multi-function stations” at Sedrun and Faido allow trains to cross between the two tunnels while maintenance is taking place or in case of emergencies.

Sedrun was intended to become by far the world’s deepest underground passenger station, known as Porta Alpina, with 2,600-foot-deep elevator shafts linking the platforms to the villages above, but the plan was dropped as uneconomic in 2012.

However, the GBT, which opened in 2016, is only part of the story.

First proposed as far back as 1947, a new “flat” route through the Alps was backed by a Swiss national referendum in 1992 and test drilling started a year later.

When the shorter, but equally important Ceneri Base Tunnel, near Lugano, sees its first trains at the end of 2020, the final piece of the jigsaw will be in place.

This 9.5-mile-long CBT eliminates the remaining “mountain” section of the busiest north-south route between the economic powerhouses of northern Europe and northern Italy.

‘Economic powerhouses’

Journey times for international travelers between Zurich and Milan will be slashed to just two and a half hours, compared with four hours via the old Gotthard route, with passenger trains traveling at up to 125 miles per hour through the tunnels.

Remarkably, by avoiding the famous spirals of the old mountain route, the GBT shortens the distance between Zurich and Milan by 25 miles. Shorter journey times meant that passenger numbers increased by 30% in the months after it opened.

“The Gotthard Base Tunnel cuts 40 minutes from the journey between Zurich or Basel and Milan, ensuring rail remains the mode of choice between Zurich and Italy,” Mark Smith, a rail travel expert better known as “The Man in Seat 61,” told CNN earlier this year.

“Those of us who remember the old route will miss the journey ‘over the top’ on the spirals of the old high-altitude Gotthard line, but it remains a scenic route with great views.”

Heading south, the journey remains much the same, skirting the lakes of Zurich and Zug, passing the home of the world-famous Swiss Army knives at Schwyz before sweeping along the eastern shore of Lake Luzern — known locally as the Vierwaldstaettersee — towards Altdorf, the home of William Tell and the northern portal of the base tunnel.

Whereas the mountain route had — and still has — the power to distract even the most jaded passenger, the primary sensations of the base tunnel are the sudden change of ambient sound, and a noticeable acceleration when the new section is reached. For regular travelers, heads buried in spreadsheets, answering emails or watching movies, the transit through the GBT barely registers nowadays, so routine has this engineering marvel become.

There’s no sensation of being 8,000 feet below the Alpine watershed as tunnel lights flash past at 125 mph, although in the tube itself, temperatures can reach 104 F (40 C) at this depth and huge fans blow cooling air through the tunnels to maintain a more comfortable atmosphere.

Twenty minutes later, the sunlight on the southern side can be dazzling as the train bursts out of the Bodio portal and into what, on some days, feels like a different world. The Italian-speaking canton of Ticino enjoys a kinder, more Mediterranean climate than its neighbors “over the hill,” with palm trees and vineyards providing a stark contrast to the northern European weather and formidable granite valleys we left behind so recently.

The major beneficiaries of the new tunnel are freight companies which will gain more capacity, lower costs and shorter journey times on this key trans-European axis — and the Alpine communities along the old line who have been blighted by the noise of heavy rail traffic for decades.

Gentler gradients now allow heavier freight trains to run unassisted through Switzerland and increase capacity from the old limit of 140-180 trains per day via the mountain route to 220-260 daily.

Eventually, this is expected to more than double the route’s annual transport capacity from 20 million to around 50 million tonnes.

‘Rolling motorway’

Keith Barrow, editor of Today’s Railway Europe, is under no illusions about the value of the new railway.

“The GBT and Ceneri tunnels are a project of international significance,” he says. “They overcome a major historical constraint on the main north-south rail axis across the Alps. The Swiss have made a big investment in smoothing the flow of freight between Europe’s major economies while ensuring rail remains a competitive option for moving goods.”

GBT is part of a wider project, officially known as Neue Eisenbahn Alpentransversale or New Trans-Alpine Railways, to provide flatter, high capacity rail links between Northern Europe and Italy.

As well as the GBT, a second base tunnel is also in operation further west, linking Basel, Bern and Milan. The 21.5-mile Lötschberg Base Tunnel has provided a shorter, flatter and more direct route under the Bernese Alps since 2007.

To protect its sensitive Alpine regions from increasing road traffic, and the even greater traffic expected in the future, the Swiss Federation is working to transfer freight from road to rail wherever possible.

The Lötschberg route carries a large volume of freight on trains known as the “rolling motorway,” where complete articulated trucks are carried on specialist low-floor wagons between southern Germany and the north of Italy, bypassing the congested trans-Alpine motorways.

Neighboring Austria also finds itself in a strategic location between Europe’s industrial giants and has embarked on a similarly ambitious program of tunnel building to liberate its Alpine valleys from heavy freight traffic. Tens of billions of dollars are being invested in base tunnels and massive upgrades of the main rail routes linking them to Germany and Italy.

For centuries, the Brenner Pass has been the primary trade route between wealthy Bavaria and northern Italy.

When the 39.7-mile, $6.6 billion tunnel system is completed in 2028, it will take the GBT’s crown as the world’s longest rail tunnel. It will provide a flatter, more direct route under the Tirol Alps and allow freight trains to bypass the city of Innsbruck. Journeys from Innsbruck to Bolzano in Italy will be cut from two hours to just 50 minutes.

Controversial mega-projects

South of Vienna, the oldest and most celebrated railway across the Alps is also being bypassed. The 17-mile, $3.65bn Semmering base tunnel will create a new, faster route from the Austrian capital and central Europe to the Adriatic when it opens in 2027.

Opened between 1848 and 1854, the current mountain railway was the first to traverse the Alps and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Construction projects of this magnitude are not without their critics or difficulties, though. All these new tunnels look set to be delivered later than planned and cost significantly more than their original budgets.

All have their opponents too, whether political, environmental or from the communities affected by these massive construction projects.

Perhaps the starkest example of this is the controversial new 170-mile railway between Lyon in France and Turin in northern Italy.

At the heart of this $27.7 billion mega-project is a $9 billion, 36-mile base tunnel to replace a difficult mountain route through the Savoy Alps.

Legal challenges, political opposition and protests, occasionally violent in nature, have beset this project from the outset, particularly on the Italian side.

Civil engineering work started as far back as 2002, although tunneling did not commence until 2016 and is expected to last 10 years. If the high-speed access lines either side are completed as planned, Paris-Milan TGV journeys could eventually be cut from seven hours to just four.

Whatever the arguments for and against these mega-projects, the move towards more environmentally friendly forms of transport combined with the ever-present demands for increased efficiency and lower costs ensure that this new generation of tunnels under Alps will play a major role in the development of Europe’s economy and travel industry over the coming decades.

This story was first published in February 2020, it has been updated.

Ben Jones is a freelance railway and travel writer, senior correspondent at The Railway Magazine and regular contributor to numerous other railway publications in the UK. Follow him on Twitter @flywheelmedia1


‘The Windsors: Inside the Royal Dynasty’: What to expect

By CNN Staff

For nearly 70 years, Queen Elizabeth II has reigned as the head of the world’s most famous royal family.

Over those decades, the members of the Windsor dynasty have celebrated weddings and births as they navigated scandals, family rifts and heartbreaking tragedy — all in full view of a watchful public.

Now, with rare archival footage and insider interviews, CNN Original Series “The Windsors: Inside the Royal Dynasty” tells the true story behind the fairy tale.

Here’s what to know:

How can I watch it?

Two new episodes will air Sunday, September 6, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, and will stream live for subscribers via CNNgo, as well as on CNN mobile apps for iOS and Android.

These episodes will be available on demand the day after the broadcast premiere.

In the meantime, you can stream the first four episodes of the season on demand via CNNgo and CNN mobile apps.

How much history will this cover?

The six-part series digs deep into the royal family’s past as it follows the dynasty all the way into the present.

If you’re just catching up, here’s what you’ll find on demand:

Part 1: ‘Succession’

The first installment of “The Windsors” begins with the death of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather, King George V. The Queen’s uncle, King Edward VIII, is next in line — and he must choose between the throne and marrying American socialite Wallis Simpson.

Part 2: ‘The Reluctant King’

In the second episode, George VI is crowned King. With this new title comes the responsibility of rebuilding the prestige of the monarchy after the scandal caused by his brother King Edward VIII.

Part 3: ‘The Young Queen’

After the death of her father King George VI, a 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth becomes Queen. She faces scandals and rumors from the start involving her sister, Princess Margaret, as well as her own marriage to Prince Philip.

Part 4: ‘Love or Duty?’

In episode four, Prince Charles is under pressure to find a wife and start a family as next in line to rule the Windsor dynasty. He meets Lady Diana and marries her in a grand public wedding, but privately the couple face serious issues.

Part 5 and Part 6 of “The Windsors,” airing Sunday night, will follow the end of Charles and Diana’s marriage, the death of “the people’s princess,” and what the future holds for the royal family.

Who’s in it?

Descendants of key figures — like India Hicks, the granddaughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten, and Sir Nicholas Soames, the grandson of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill — give personal insight into the royal family’s story alongside expert commentators such as Kate Williams, Sally Bedell Smith, Piers Brendon, Jane Ridley, Wesley Kerr and Anne Sebba.

Anything else I should know?

That voice you hear narrating the series? It belongs to the one and only Rosamund Pike.


Coronavirus Outbreak Timeline Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s some information about the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The coronavirus, called Covid-19 by WHO, originated in China and is the cousin of the SARS virus.

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that are common among animals. The viruses can make people sick, usually with a mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness, similar to a common cold. Coronavirus symptoms include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, possibly a headache and maybe a fever, which can last for a couple of days.

Case Tracking

WHO Situation Reports

Coronavirus Map


CNN’s early reporting on the coronavirus

December 31, 2019 – Cases of pneumonia detected in Wuhan, China, are first reported to WHO. During this reported period, the virus is unknown. The cases occur between December 12 and December 29, according to Wuhan Municipal Health.

January 1, 2020 – Chinese health authorities close the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market after it is discovered that wild animals sold there may be the source of the virus.

January 5, 2020 – China announces that the unknown pneumonia cases in Wuhan are not SARS or MERS. In a statement, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission says a retrospective probe into the outbreak has been initiated.

January 7, 2020 – Chinese authorities confirm that they have identified the virus as a novel coronavirus, initially named 2019-nCoV by WHO.

January 11, 2020 – The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission announces the first death caused by the coronavirus. A 61-year-old man, exposed to the virus at the seafood market, died on January 9 after respiratory failure caused by severe pneumonia.

January 17, 2020 – Chinese health officials confirm that a second person has died in China. The United States responds to the outbreak by implementing screenings for symptoms at airports in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.

January 20, 2020 – China reports 139 new cases of the sickness, including a third death. On the same day, WHO’s first situation report confirms cases in Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

January 20, 2020 – The National Institutes of Health announces that it is working on a vaccine against the coronavirus. “The NIH is in the process of taking the first steps towards the development of a vaccine,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

January 21, 2020 – Officials in Washington state confirm the first case on US soil.

January 23, 2020 – At an emergency committee, WHO says that the coronavirus does not yet constitute a public health emergency of international concern.

January 23, 2020 – The Beijing Culture and Tourism Bureau cancels all large-scale Lunar New Year celebrations in an effort to contain the growing spread of coronavirus. On the same day, Chinese authorities enforce a partial lockdown of transport in and out of Wuhan. Authorities in the nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou Huanggang announce a series of similar measures.

January 28, 2020 – Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom in Beijing. At the meeting, Xi and WHO agree to send a team of international experts, including US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff, to China to investigate the coronavirus outbreak.

January 29, 2020 – The White House announces the formation of a new task force that will help monitor and contain the spread of the virus, and ensure Americans have accurate and up-to-date health and travel information, it says.

January 30, 2020 – The United States reports its first confirmed case of person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus. On the same day, WHO determines that the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

January 31, 2020 – The Donald Trump administration announces it will deny entry to foreign nationals who have traveled in China in the last 14 days.

February 2, 2020 – A man in the Philippines dies from the coronavirus — the first time a death has been reported outside mainland China since the outbreak began.

February 3, 2020 – China’s Foreign Ministry accuses the US government of inappropriately reacting to the outbreak and spreading fear by enforcing travel restrictions.

February 4, 2020 – The Japanese Health Ministry announces that ten people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship moored in Yokohama Bay are confirmed to have the coronavirus. The ship, which is carrying more than 3,700 people, is placed under quarantine scheduled to end on February 19.

February 6, 2020 – First Covid-19 death in the United States: A person in California’s Santa Clara County dies of coronavirus, but the link is not confirmed until April 21.

February 7, 2020 – Li Wenliang, a Wuhan doctor who was targeted by police for trying to sound the alarm on a “SARS-like” virus in December, dies of the coronavirus. Following news of Li’s death, the topics “Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology,” and “We want freedom of speech,” trend on China’s Twitter-like platform, Weibo, before disappearing from the heavily censored platform.

February 8, 2020 – The US Embassy in Beijing confirms that a 60-year-old US national died in Wuhan on February 6, marking the first confirmed death of a foreigner.

February 10, 2020 – Xi inspects efforts to contain the coronavirus in Beijing, the first time he has appeared on the front lines of the fight against the outbreak. On the same day, a team of international experts from WHO arrive in China to assist with containing the coronavirus outbreak.

February 10, 2020 – The Anthem of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, sets sail from Bayonne, New Jersey, after a coronavirus scare had kept it docked and its passengers waiting for days.

February 11, 2020 – WHO names the coronavirus Covid-19.

February 13, 2020 – China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency announces that Shanghai mayor Ying Yong will be replacing Jiang Chaoliang amid the outbreak. Wuhan Communist Party chief Ma Guoqiang has also been replaced by Wang Zhonglin, party chief of Jinan city in Shandong province, according to Xinhua.

February 14, 2020 – A Chinese tourist who tested positive for the virus dies in France, becoming the first person to die in the outbreak in Europe. On the same day, Egypt announces its first case of coronavirus, marking the first case in Africa.

February 15, 2020 – The official Communist Party journal Qiushi publishes the transcript of a speech made on February 3 by Xi in which he “issued requirements for the prevention and control of the new coronavirus” on January 7, revealing Xi knew about and was directing the response to the virus on almost two weeks before he commented on it publicly.

February 17, 2020 – A second person in California’s Santa Clara County dies of coronavirus, but the link is not confirmed until April 21.

February 18, 2020 – Xi says in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that China’s measures to prevent and control the epidemic “are achieving visible progress,” according to state news Xinhua.

February 21, 2020 – The CDC changes criteria for counting confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the United States and begins tracking two separate and distinct groups: those repatriated by the US Department of State and those identified by the US public health network.

February 25, 2020 – The NIH announces that a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the antiviral drug remdesivir in adults diagnosed with coronavirus has started at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The first participant is an American who was evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan.

February 25, 2020 – In an effort to contain the largest outbreak in Europe, Italy’s Lombardy region press office issues a list of towns and villages that are in complete lockdown. Around 100,000 people are affected by the travel restrictions.

February 26, 2020 – CDC officials say that a California patient being treated for novel coronavirus is the first US case of unknown origin. The patient, who didn’t have any relevant travel history nor exposure to another known patient, is the first possible US case of “community spread.”

February 26, 2020 – Trump places Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the US government response to the novel coronavirus, amid growing criticism of the White House’s handling of the outbreak.

February 29, 2020 – A patient dies of coronavirus in Washington state. For almost two months, this is considered the first death due to the virus in the United States, until autopsy results announced April 21 reveal two earlier deaths in California.

March 3, 2020 – The Federal Reserve slashes interest rates by half a percentage point in an attempt to give the US economy a jolt in the face of concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. It is the first unscheduled, emergency rate cut since 2008, and it also marks the biggest one-time cut since then.

March 3, 2020 – Officials announce that Iran will temporarily release 54,000 people from prisons and deploy hundreds of thousands of health workers as officials announced a slew of measures to contain the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China. It is also announced that 23 members of Iran’s parliament tested positive for the virus.

March 4, 2020 – The CDC formally removes earlier restrictions that limited coronavirus testing of the general public to people in the hospital, unless they had close contact with confirmed coronavirus cases. According to the CDC, clinicians should now “use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested.”

March 8, 2020 – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signs a decree placing travel restrictions on the entire Lombardy region and 14 other provinces, restricting the movements of more than 10 million people in the northern part of the country.

March 9, 2020 – Conte announces that the whole country of Italy is on lockdown.

March 11, 2020 – WHO declares the novel coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic. WHO says the outbreak is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. In an Oval Office address, Trump announces that he is restricting travel from Europe to the United States for 30 days in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus. The ban, which applies to the 26 countries in the Schengen Area, applies only to foreign nationals and not American citizens and permanent residents who’d be screened before entering the country.

March 13, 2020 – Trump declares a national emergency to free up $50 billion in federal resources to combat coronavirus.

March 18, 2020 – Trump signs into law a coronavirus relief package that includes provisions for free testing for Covid-19 and paid emergency leave.

March 19, 2020 – At a news conference, officials from China’s National Health Commission report no new locally transmitted coronavirus cases for the first time since the pandemic began.

March 23, 2020 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres calls for an immediate global ceasefire amid the pandemic to fight “the common enemy.”

March 24, 2020 – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach agree to postpone the Olympics until 2021 amid the outbreak.

March 25, 2020 – The White House and Senate leaders reach an agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus deal to offset the economic damage of coronavirus, producing one of the most expensive and far-reaching measures in the history of Congress.

March 27, 2020 – Trump signs the stimulus package into law.

April 2, 2020 – According to the Department of Labor, 6.6 million US workers file for their first week of unemployment benefits in the week ending March 28, the highest number of initial claims in history. Globally, the total number of coronavirus cases surpasses 1 million, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tally.

April 3, 2020 – Trump says his administration is now recommending Americans wear “non-medical cloth” face coverings, a reversal of previous guidance that suggested masks were unnecessary for people who weren’t sick.

April 8, 2020 – China reopens Wuhan after a 76-day lockdown.

April 14, 2020 – Trump announces he is halting funding to WHO while a review is conducted, saying the review will cover WHO’s “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus.”

April 20, 2020 – Chilean health officials announce that Chile will begin issuing the world’s first digital immunity cards to people who have recovered from coronavirus, saying the cards will help identify individuals who no longer pose a health risk to others.

April 21, 2020 – California’s Santa Clara County announces autopsy results that show two Californians died of novel coronavirus in early and mid-February — up to three weeks before the previously known first US death from the virus.

April 28, 2020 – The US passes one million confirmed cases of the virus, according to Johns Hopkins.

May 1, 2020 – The US Food and Drug Administration issues an emergency-use authorization for remdesivir in hospitalized patients with severe Covid-19. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn says remdesivir is the first authorized therapy drug for Covid-19.

May 4, 2020 – During a virtual pledging conference co-hosted by the European Union, world leaders pledge a total of $8 billion for the development and deployment of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against the novel coronavirus.

May 11, 2020 – Trump and his administration announce that the federal government is sending $11 billion to states to expand coronavirus testing capabilities. The relief package signed on April 24 includes $25 billion for testing, with $11 billion for states, localities, territories and tribes.

May 13, 2020 – Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, warns that the coronavirus may never go away and may just join the mix of viruses that kill people around the world every year.

May 19, 2020 – WHO agrees to hold an inquiry into the global response to the coronavirus pandemic. WHO member states adopt the proposal with no objections during the World Health Assembly meeting, after the European Union and Australia led calls for an investigation.

May 23, 2020 – China reports no new symptomatic coronavirus cases, the first time since the beginning of the outbreak in December.

May 27, 2020 – Data collected by Johns Hopkins University reports that the coronavirus has killed more than 100,000 people across the US, meaning that an average of almost 900 Americans died each day since the first known coronavirus-related death was reported nearly four months earlier.

June 2, 2020 – Wuhan’s Health Commission announces that it has completed coronavirus tests on 9.9 million of its residents with no new confirmed cases found.

June 8, 2020 – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces that almost all coronavirus restrictions in New Zealand will be lifted after the country reported no active cases.

June 11, 2020 – The US passes 2 million confirmed cases of the virus, according to Johns Hopkins.

June 16, 2020 – University of Oxford scientists leading the Recovery Trial, a large UK-based trial investigating potential Covid-19 treatments, announce that a low-dose regimen of dexamethasone for 10 days was found to reduce the risk of death by a third among hospitalized patients requiring ventilation in the trial.

June 20, 2020 – The NIH announces that it has halted a clinical trial evaluating the safety and effectiveness of drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus. “A data and safety monitoring board met late Friday and determined that while there was no harm, the study drug was very unlikely to be beneficial to hospitalized patients with Covid-19,” the NIH says in a statement.

June 26, 2020 – During a virtual media briefing, WHO announces that it plans to deliver about 2 billion doses of a coronavirus vaccine to people across the globe. One billion of those doses will be purchased for low- and middle-income countries, according to WHO.

July 1, 2020 – The European Union announces it will allow travelers from 14 countries outside the bloc to visit EU countries, months after it shut its external borders in response to the pandemic. The list does not include the US, which doesn’t meet the criteria set by the EU for it to be considered a “safe country.”

July 6, 2020 – In an open letter published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, 239 scientists from around the world urge WHO and other health agencies to be more forthright in explaining the potential airborne transmission of coronavirus. In the letter, scientists write that studies “have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking, and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in air and pose a risk of exposure at distances beyond 1 to 2 meters (yards) from an infected individual.”

July 7, 2020 – The Trump administration notifies Congress and the UN that the US is formally withdrawing from WHO. The withdrawal goes into effect on July 6, 2021.

July 7, 2020 – Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro announces he has tested positive for Covid-19, following months of downplaying the virus.

July 21, 2020 – European leaders agree to create a €750 billion ($858 billion) recovery fund to rebuild EU economies ravaged by the coronavirus.

July 27, 2020 – A vaccine being developed by the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in partnership with the biotechnology company Moderna, enters Phase 3 testing. The trial is expected to enroll about 30,000 adult volunteers and evaluates the safety of the vaccine and whether it can prevent symptomatic Covid-19 after two doses, among other outcomes.

August 11, 2020 – In a live teleconference, Russian President Vladimir Putin announces that Russia has approved a coronavirus vaccine for public use before completion of Phase 3 trials, which usually precedes approval. The vaccine, which is named Sputnik-V, is developed by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute with funding from the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF).

August 15, 2020 – Russia begins production on Sputnik-V, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

August 23, 2020 – The FDA issues an emergency use authorization for the use of convalescent plasma to treat Covid-19. It is made using the blood of people who have recovered from coronavirus infections.

August 27, 2020 – The CDC notifies public health officials around the US to prepare to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine as soon as late October. In the documents, posted by The New York Times, the CDC provides planning scenarios to help states prepare and advises on who should get vaccinated first — healthcare professionals, essential workers, national security “populations” and long-term care facility residents and staff.

September 4, 2020 – The first peer-reviewed results of Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials of Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine are published in the medical journal The Lancet. The results “have a good safety profile” and the vaccine induced antibody responses in all participants, The Lancet says.

October 2, 2020 – Trump announces that he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for Covid-19. He spends three nights at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center receiving treatment before returning to the White House.

October 12, 2020 – Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson announces it has paused the advanced clinical trial of its experimental coronavirus vaccine because of an unexplained illness in one of the volunteers.”Following our guidelines, the participant’s illness is being reviewed and evaluated by the ENSEMBLE independent Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) as well as our internal clinical and safety physicians,” the company said in a statement. ENSEMBLE is the name of the study. The trial resumes later in the month.

December 10, 2020 – Vaccine advisers to the FDA vote to recommend the agency grant emergency use authorization to Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine.

December 14, 2020 – US officials announce the first doses of the FDA authorized Pfizer vaccine have been delivered to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

December 18, 2020 – The FDA authorizes a second coronavirus vaccine made by Moderna for emergency use. “The emergency use authorization allows the vaccine to be distributed in the U.S. for use in individuals 18 years and older,” the FDA said in a tweet.

January 14, 2021 – The WHO team tasked with investigating the origins of the outbreak in Wuhan arrive in China.

January 20 – 2021 – Newly elected US President Joe Biden halts the United States’ withdrawal from WHO.

February 22, 2021 – The death toll from Covid-19 exceeds 500,000 in the United States.

February 27, 2021 – The FDA grants emergency use authorization to Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, the first single dose Covid-19 vaccine available in the US.

March 30, 2021 – According to a 120-page report from WHO, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 probably spread to people through an animal, and probably started spreading among humans no more than a month or two before it was noticed in December of 2019. The report says a scenario where it spread via an intermediate animal host, possibly a wild animal captured and then raised on a farm, is “very likely.”

April 17, 2021 – The global tally of deaths from Covid-19 surpasses 3 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins.