Far from being an annus mirabilis, a wonderful year full of miracles, 2020 was testing and troublesome for most people in the world. The obvious reason was Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 known simply as the SARS-CoV-2 virus or Covid-19.
At last, with the production of multiple vaccines, we hope to say goodbye to it in 2021. Though named after its discovery in 2019, the pandemic that it caused raged across our world in 2020.
There are nearly 77 million worldwide coronavirus cases, with close to 1.7 million deaths already. The United States leads the tally in both infections and deaths. Over 18 million have been infected in that country out of which more than 300,000 have died. India’s infections have exceeded 10 million, with over 180,000 deaths.
Luckily for us in India, the recovery rates are high. Only some 300,000 active cases persist, with less than 9,000 considered serious. The caseload per million is just over 7000, in other words, fewer than one person in a thousand is infected. About 1 in a 1000 has actually died from the disease.
But these are small mercies, considering the huge hit that the Indian economy has taken, especially its most vulnerable sections such as migrant workers and marginal farmers. It is believed that poverty and inequality have alarmingly exacerbated in the pandemic despite many government measures to alleviate the sufferings of the poorest of the poor.
Yet, it helps in a year-end reflection to put things in perspective. Most of us may not be aware, but over 1.3 million people died in road and traffic accidents this year — about 300,000 less than Covid-19. Even though people were less and less on the roads due to lockdowns and voluntary self-isolation.
The death of over 1.6 million by HIV/AIDS almost matches the Covid-19 figures. And what about the “big C”? Close to 8 million died of cancer, about five times what the coronavirus claimed. Cigarettes and alcohol related deaths also exceeded 7 million. There were, in addition, over a million suicides and over 40 million abortions in 2020.
If the reason we the living must think of death, especially at the end of the year, it is learn to live better. And humanity has a long, long way to go. Apart from still raging forest fires in California, we lost over 5 million hectares of forest, over 6 million hectares to soil erosion, adding over 11 million hectares of desert to the planet.
We added over 35 million tons of hothouse gases to our atmosphere and released over 9.5 million tons of toxic chemicals into our environment. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the human species, having comprehensively colonised the planet, has brought its own habitat into considerable danger, risking its own present and the future of its children.
Cause deeply to ponder over
The Covid-19 pandemic certainly gives us cause deeply to ponder over how we live and work, how we eat and consume, how we organise our cultural, social, and political arrangements as human beings. Not just as people who belong to a particular ethnicity, religion, region, or nation.
Will we change, do things differently, absorb the valuable lessons needed to survive and flourish? It is not clear that we will, but if every crisis is an opportunity, then this is the time to transform.
In India, the year began with protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, culminating in the Shaheen Bagh sit-in. The Act offered a fast track to Indian citizenship to religious refugees of all faiths except Muslims from the subcontinent. Though constitutional challenges against the Act remain, the protests fizzled out after the outbreak of the pandemic. But not before the terrible violence of the Delhi riots of 23-25 February, which claimed over 50 lives.
As the year comes to an end, protesters in even greater numbers have thronged the national capital region of India. This time it is the farmers of Punjab who are riled up about the Agricultural Bills that became laws in September. The government is busy negotiating with the agitators, who have blocked roads to press their demands.
Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 will also be remembered as a year of protests. Despite these, the ruling party, BJP, and the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, have retained their popularity among the populace, if results of state and local elections are anything to go by.
Speaking of elections, the biggest transition in world politics is still underway in the United States. Joe Biden has won the elections and is all set to be the 46th President of the US. His running mate, Kamala Harris, will also be the first Vice-President of Indian origin.
All told, the world has survived a serious pandemic without crippling or catastrophic damage. We must therefore not dub 2020 as an annus horribilis. For all of us have much to be grateful for and much more to look forward to in 2021.