As the world celebrated the start of a new decade with fireworks and a celebration on January 1st, few could imagine what 2020 had in store.
In the past 12 months, the novel coronavirus has paralyzed the economy, devastated communities and trapped nearly four billion people in their homes. It’s been a year that changed the world for at least a generation, possibly since World War II.
More than 1.7 million people died. Around 80 million people are known to have contracted the virus, although the real number is likely much higher. Children were orphaned, grandparents were lost, and partners died when loved ones died alone in the hospital. Bedside visits were considered too dangerous to take a risk.
“This is a pandemic experience that is unique in the life of every person on earth,” said Sten Vermund, infectious disease epidemiologist and dean of the Yale School of Public Health. “Hardly any of us have not been touched by it.”
Covid-19 is far from the deadliest pandemic in history. The bubonic plague in the 14th century wiped out a quarter of the population. At least 50 million people succumbed to Spanish influenza in 1918-19. 33 million people died of AIDS.
However, contracting coronavirus is as easy as breathing in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I went to Hell’s Gate and came back,” said Wan Chunhui, a 44-year-old Chinese survivor who was hospitalized for 17 days. “I saw with my own eyes that others couldn’t recover and died, which had a big impact on me.”
The magnitude of the global catastrophe was hard to imagine when on December 31, the Chinese authorities announced 27 cases of “viral pneumonia of unknown origin” that stunned doctors in Wuhan city.
The next day, authorities silently closed the Wuhan animal market that was originally linked to the outbreak. On Jan. 7, Chinese officials announced that they had identified the new virus and named it 2019-nCoV. On January 11, China announced the first death in Wuhan. In a matter of days, cases flared up across Asia, France and the United States.
At the end of the month, countries flew foreigners from China. Borders around the world have been closed and more than 50 million people in Wuhan’s Hubei Province have been quarantined.
New illness, lockdown
AFP images of a man lying dead on his back in front of a Wuhan furniture store, wearing a face mask and holding a plastic bag, summed up the fear that permeated the city. AFP was unable to confirm the cause of death at this point. A symbol of horror and claustrophobia was also the Diamond Princess cruise ship, on which more than 700 people were ultimately infected with the virus and 13 died.
By the time horror went global, the race for a vaccine had already begun. A small German biotech company called BioNTech quietly put its cancer work aside and started another project. His name? “Speed of Light”.
On February 11, the World Health Organization named the new disease Covid-19. Four days later, France reported the first confirmed death outside of Asia. Europe watched in horror as northern Italy became an epicenter.
“It’s worse than the war,” said Orlando Gualdi, mayor of the Lombard village of Vertova in March, where 36 people died in 25 days. “It is absurd to think that such a pandemic could happen in 2020.”
First Italy, then Spain, France and Great Britain were banned. The WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic. The US borders, which were already closed to China, were closed to much of Europe. For the first time in peacetime, the Summer Olympics were delayed.
By mid-April, 3.9 billion people, or half of humanity, were living under some form of lockdown. From Paris to New York, from Delhi to Lagos, and from London to Buenos Aires, the streets became eerily silent, the frequent wail of the ambulance sirens as a reminder that death was imminent.
Scientists had warned of a global pandemic for decades, but few listened. Some of the richest countries in the world, let alone the poorest, floundered in the face of an invisible enemy. In a globalized economy, supply chains came to a standstill. Supermarket shelves have been exposed by panic buyers.
Chronic underinvestment in healthcare has been brutally exposed as hospitals struggled to cope and intensive care units quickly overwhelmed. Underpaid and overworked medical professionals fought without personal protective equipment.
“I graduated in 1994 and the state hospitals were completely neglected at the time,” said Nilima Vaidya-Bhamare, a doctor in Mumbai, India, one of the hardest hit countries. “Why does it take a pandemic to wake people up?” she asked in May.
In New York, the city with more billionaires than anyone else, medical professionals were photographed carrying garbage bags. A field hospital was built in Central Park. Mass graves have been dug on Hart Island.
“It’s a scene from a horror movie,” said Virgilio Neto, Mayor of Manaus in Brazil. “We are no longer in a state of emergency, but in absolute misery.” Corpses piled up in refrigerator trucks and bulldozers dug mass graves.
Shops closed. Schools and universities closed. Live sports have been canceled. Commercial air travel saw the sharpest decline in history. Shops, clubs, bars and restaurants closed. Spain’s lockdown was so severe that children could not leave the house. People were suddenly trapped in tiny apartments for weeks.
Those who could worked from home. Zoom calls replace meetings, business trips, and parties. Those whose jobs were non-transferable were often fired or forced to risk their health and jobs regardless.
In May, the pandemic cut 20 million American jobs. The pandemic and global recession could bring the number of people living in extreme poverty to 150 million by 2021, the World Bank warned.
Social inequalities that have been growing for years have been exposed like never before. Hugs, handshakes and kisses fell by the wayside. Human interaction took place behind plexiglass, face masks and hand sanitisers.
Domestic violence incidents increased, as did mental health problems. As city dwellers offered funds to compliment each other on getting out of the pandemic in palatial second homes in the countryside and governments floundered, tempers boiled among urban prisoners and anger spread to the streets.
The United States, the largest economy in the world and a country with no general health care, quickly became the hardest hit nation. More than 330,000 people have died while President Donald Trump battled the threat, heralding questionable treatments like hydroxychloroquine and popularizing the idea of disinfectant injection.
He launched Operation Warp Speed in May, with the U.S. government spending $ 11 billion to develop a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the year. Trump hailed it as the largest U.S. company since the atomic bomb was created in World War II.
Not even the rich and powerful could buy immunity. Trump contacted Covid-19 in October, as did Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in July. Trump’s response to the pandemic likely cost him Joe Biden election. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent three days in intensive care with coronavirus in April.
A-list movie star Tom Hanks and his wife got sick. Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the greatest footballers of his generation, tennis champion Novak Djokovic, Madonna, Prince Charles and Prince Albert II all tested positive.
2021 vaccine drive
Towards the end of the year, governments are on the verge of vaccinating millions, starting with the elderly, medical professionals and the most vulnerable, before moving on to mass campaigns presented as the only ticket to normal life.
In December, the UK became the first western country to approve a vaccine for general use and launched the vaccine developed in BioNTech’s laboratory in collaboration with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
The United States quickly followed suit with the EU countries to begin on Sunday, but the emergence of a new strain of the virus in several countries has dampened some of the euphoria over the start of the mass vaccination program.
“If I can have it at 90, so can you,” said Margaret Keenan, the British grandmother who became the first person to receive the approved Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine.
As rich nations rush to buy up stocks, China and Russia are likely to battle for influence in 2021 by expanding their own cheaper vaccines beyond their borders.
To what extent the Covid-19 pandemic will leave a lasting legacy is far from clear. Some experts warn that it could take years for herd immunity to build through mass vaccination, especially given anti-Vax beliefs enshrined in some countries. Others predict that life could return to normal by the middle of next year.
Many expect a more flexible approach to working from home, a greater reliance on technology and supply chains that are becoming more local. The trip is likely to resume, but how soon is uncertain. The disease can debilitate otherwise healthy young people for months.
What happens to commercial real estate in city centers if working from home is still the order of the day for employees? Could urban centers begin to depopulate as people who are no longer commuter-bound move away in search of a greener or quieter lifestyle?
There are also concerns about the impact on civil liberties. According to think tank Freedom House, democracy and human rights have deteriorated in 80 countries as governments abuse power in their response to the virus.
Others predict that fear of large crowds could have enormous consequences, at least for public transport, cultural, sports and entertainment venues, and the cruise industry.
“I think there will be some profound changes in our society,” warned Vermund of the Yale School of Public Health.
The global economy is also facing a difficult task. The IMF has warned of a recession worse than the one that followed the 2008 financial crisis. For many, however, the pandemic is just one point on the long-term horizon of a far more deadly, far more challenging and far more life-changing calamity.
“Covid-19 was a big wave that hit us, and behind it is the tsunami of climate change and global warming,” says astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell, whose book “The Knowledge”, published in 2014, advises how the world is moving towards a global one Rebuilding the world can catastrophe.
(This story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)