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OP-ED: Covid-19: A year in perspective

  • Published at 02:56 pm February 26th, 2021

The pandemic has become part of our daily lives, but with the vaccine rollouts, there is a ray of hope on the horizon

Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote my first article on Covid-19. At the time, WHO had not yet declared it a pandemic, and the number of people infected was reported to be 80,000 with 50 countries confirming cases of the virus. 

The number of worldwide Covid-related deaths was 2,700 at the time. Little did we know how serious the situation would become in a short span of time with Covid-19 single-handedly crippling the economy and bringing the world to a grinding halt. 

Fast forward a year and the total number of people infected globally stands at 113 million with 2.5 million deaths to date. To put that in perspective, the fatalities would be the equivalent to the entire population of a country such as Namibia. During the course of 2020, most countries around the world reported cases of the coronavirus. 

One notable exception is North Korea, where it is claimed there have been no cases of the virus. Apparently Covid-19 has not been able to infiltrate its borders. Having said which, there are still Covid-deniers around the globe who dispute even the existence of the virus, claiming it to be a hoax.

I wrote the article while I was in Bangladesh for a brief visit. It was hard not to be glued to my phone watching news updates and reading about the phenomenon that was taking over the world and gradually bringing it to its knees. My husband was in Milan for work. He made it back to London just as Northern Italy, and then the whole of the country, went into lockdown and was required to quarantine at home for 14 days. 

Given the rapidity with which the virus was spreading, I changed my flights and arrived back in the UK a few days before we were thrown into national lockdown ourselves. The terms “quarantine,” “lockdown” and “self-isolation” were just beginning to gain traction. Washing hands, sanitizing, and wearing masks were also being promoted. These days they have become a part of our vocabulary and daily lives.

My first trip to the supermarket on arrival was surreal, it was also my last for four months. Rows and rows of empty shelves greeted me. Fear of shortages had superseded people’s rationality resulting in panic buying. Unsurprisingly, this temporarily created a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to shortages of specific food items such as rice, pasta, oil, flour, eggs, etc. 

Though not a food item, the most bizarre was the hoarding of toilet paper. It is still a mystery to me, given that we had a repeat performance albeit briefly during our second lockdown. Thankfully, we seemed to have learned the third time around.

The pandemic exposed the already shambolic UK government to be ineffective in dealing with the crisis. Their initial reluctance to close shops, restaurants, offices, and restrict flights into the country cost lives and put an inordinate amount of pressure on the NHS and its frontline workers who to have been nothing less than heroic. Since the onset of the coronavirus, we have had 4.14 million infected and 122,000 deaths in the UK. 

It was as if Boris Johnson was determined to embody the saying “too little, too late” and then replace it with “too much, too early” by opening up the economy before it was deemed safe by health officials. The lax measures of allowing travel into the UK from other countries without adequate procedures to track and trace passengers has contributed to the spread of the disease. 

We came out of our first lockdown in July only to be told we were going back to harsher restrictions in November. Then the country rejoiced when it seemed that families would be able to reunite for Christmas. The decision to ease these restrictions proved to be premature. It was announced that Christmas was pretty much cancelled, and we went into our third lockdown in December, one which is still ongoing. 

The past year was one of Netflix and Zoom calls, of harried parents and online schooling, when carbon emissions dropped drastically for a while, and where people found themselves spending time with their families. 

But it was also one of immense financial and emotional hardship. The global economic crisis resulted in job losses which hit the travel, hospitality, retail, and entertainment industry harder than most other sectors, and also impacted those earning daily wages. The UK alone had over 750,000 redundancies during this period with unemployment standing at 5.1% in December 2020. Prolonged lockdown has also had the effect of exacerbating mental health issues with many people left isolated from loved ones.  

Towards the end of 2020, to make a bad situation worse, new strains of the virus were identified. Some of which were thought to be far more virulent and infectious. What emerged over the course of last year was that immunizing the vast majority of the global population was the only way to try and deal with Covid-19. 

A ray of hope in the somewhat bleak horizon has been the development and rollout of the vaccination programs with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines already in use and the Moderna vaccine set to roll out in spring. So far, 18 million people have been vaccinated in the UK, and Bangladesh has administered over 2 million doses. 

With this in mind, the British PM recently laid out plans to try and end lockdown by the June 21 this year with a gradual phasing out of restrictions. But this would be determined by four conditions: That the vaccination program goes according to plan, evidence shows that vaccines are reducing deaths and the numbers requiring treatment in hospitals, infections do not surge in hospital admissions, and that new variants do not risk change of lifting bans.

We still have a long way to go before we are out of the woods, but I am hoping that a year from today, I am not writing yet another article on Covid-19. 

Nadia Kabir Barb is a writer, journalist, and author of the short story collection Truth or Dare.

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