By Avery Koo

What started as a novel virus in China quickly became a sweeping disease that shut down the world and put a 1.5 year halt on the global economy.

But while some countries’ economies are already back to normal, others are lagging far behind. 

COVID-19 recovery timelines, by OECD country

This chart using data from the OECD anticipates when countries will economically recover from the global pandemic, based on getting back to pre-pandemic levels of GDP per capita.

Note: The categorization of ‘advanced’ or ‘emerging’ economy was determined by OECD standards.

The leaders of the pack

At the top, China and the U.S. are recovering at breakneck speed. In fact, recovering is the wrong word for China, as they reached pre-pandemic GDP per capita levels just after Q2’2020.

On the other end, some countries are looking at years – not months – when it comes to their recovery date. Saudi Arabia isn’t expected to recover until after Q1’2024, and Argentina is estimated to have an even slower recovery, occurring only after Q2’2026.

Most countries will hit pre-pandemic levels of GDP per capita by the end of 2022. The slowest recovering advanced economies—Iceland and Spain—aren’t expected to bounce back until 2023.

Four emerging economies are speeding ahead, and are predicted to get back on their feet by the end of this year or slightly later (if they haven’t already):

  • Russia: after Q2’2021
  • Chile: after Q3’2021
  • India: after Q4’2021
  • Indonesia: after Q4’2021

However, no recovery is guaranteed, and many countries will continue face setbacks as waves of COVID-19 variants hit – India, for example, was battling its biggest wave as recently as May 2021.

Trailing behind

Why are some countries recovering faster than others? One factor seems to be vaccination rates.

The higher the rate of vaccination, the harder it is for COVID-19 to spread. This gives countries a chance to loosen restrictions, let people get back to work and regular life, and fuel the economy. Additionally, the quicker vaccines are rolled out, the less time there is for variants to mutate.

Another factor is the overall strength of a country’s healthcare infrastructure. More advanced economies often have more ICU capacity, more efficient dissemination of public health information, and, simply, more hospital staff. These traits help better handle the pandemic, with reduced cases, less restrictions, and a speedy recovery.

Finally, the level of government support and fiscal stimulus injected into different economies has determined how swiftly they’ve recovered. Similar to the disparity in vaccine rollouts, there was a significant fiscal stimulus gap, especially during the heat of the pandemic.

Recovering to normal?

Many experts and government leaders are now advocating for funneling more money into healthcare infrastructure and disease research preventatively. The increased funding now would help stop worldwide shut downs and needless loss of life in future.

Time will tell when we return to “normal” everywhere, however, normal will likely never be the same. Many impacts of the global pandemic will stay with us over the long term.


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