Last week, a friend called to invite me to his son’s wedding. He was happy and excited as the father of the groom is expected to be. As far as I could remember, he went on and on about how children grow fast and ‘suddenly, here they are getting married’. I hardly remember the entire conversation, because, I shamefully admit, as he talked about the wedding and his son’s preparation, I didn’t exactly follow the conversation. From the start, when he said I was invited to the reception, my mind automatically switched to another mode — the coronavirus worry mode.
I almost asked him if the reception was virtual, which would have been ridiculous. Even before he hung up, I started wondering if it was safe for me and my wife to attend with obviously dozens of other guests. Will it be safe to attend? It will probably be. But I don’t know. We must do the test the next day, I thought as he hung up. Then I thought it was kind of silly to think about these things as the man was kind enough to invite us. But then, it is Covid-19 seriously. It is not a joke, I thought.
A daft remark
Covid-19 has messed up our lives, completely. Our habits have obviously been altered due to lockdowns and strict precautionary measures that we unconsciously prefer to just settle at home in the assuring safety of our own little environment. A simple wedding invitation has thus become such an odd thing. I faintly remember telling my friend, jokingly though, if he realised that his son’s wedding coincided with the first anniversary of the coronavirus outbreak. I thought later it was a daft remark.
It was a year ago, when the first infection of the coronavirus occurred, when the so-called ‘Patient One’, a 55-year-old woman from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province in China, was infected by the ‘SARSCoV2’ on November 17, 2019. By December 20, 60 infections were reported in the city. However, authorities there didn’t report the first case until January 5. The virus was designated as Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation on February 11, and one month later, on March 11, the WHO declared it a global pandemic. Since then, 58 million people were infected worldwide and more than 1.38 million died. This is a massive human cost. Add to that the economic and social cost.
Loss of jobs around the world
One year on, it might be hard to account for the actual overall impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But most estimates indicate that the global economy, due to lockdowns, government restrictions on commercial activity and travel and social distancing, will lose at least $8.5 trillion (Dh31.2 trillion) in this year and next year, which means the loss of dozens of millions of jobs around the world.
Weddings, family birthdays and large gatherings seem like distant memories now — like black and white movies. The facemask has become part of life, at least for now. We are not even sure of how long we will have to wear it.
Declines in tourism, aviation, agriculture, the finance and manufacturing — because of the massive reduction in both supply and demand are expected to continue into the next year even though several vaccines trials have been reported successful. It will understandably be several more months before people around the world start getting the shots.
The global stock markets were hit the hardest. According to most American analysts, even the Spanish Flu, in 1918, didn’t have such an overwhelming impact on the stock market. The media and entertainment industries didn’t fare any better. The movie industry was completely shut as cinemas were closed for most of the year while newspapers moved to mostly digital operation as the print circulation was mostly halted for several months due to the risk of virus transmission and mandatory stop of delivery due to lockdowns.
Impact of the pandemic
The devastating impact of the pandemic dealt a severe blow to one of the key United Nations millennium goals — reducing poverty. And unfortunately, women were the gender that has been hit the hardest, according to a recent depressing report by the UN, leading to further widening the gender poverty gap. The coronavirus has pushed more women into extreme poverty than men. In a male-dominated economy, women learn less, have few savings, tend to be let go first when businesses feel the need to trim down the payroll. The UN report says the coronavirus “will push 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls. This will bring the total number of women and girls living on $1.90 or less, to 435 million.”
Our mental health, too, is under attack. The pandemic has led to an unprecedented increase in mental health issues globally. Lockdowns enforced loneliness, online schooling, job loss, which led to high rates of stress, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological distress in many countries.
A world that moved online
These are just a few examples of the way Covid-19 has affected life as we know it. But it is not the whole story. The post- coronavirus world will certainly be nothing like the one we were used to before the infection of ‘Patient One’ in Wuhan. The world economy is already going through a drastic change by moving online. The traditional economy is gone. The Amazons and Netflixes of the world will be in control. It is already happening. Hundreds of millions of workers need to be retrained to be able to earn a living.
Socially, however, the impact may have been deeper. The norms and rules of social interaction, the essence of human relations, are being re-engineered. There is a new reality imposed on us that we must adjust to. For one year, we have been navigating through the pandemic to preserve some sort of social life. But it was tough.
Weddings, family birthdays and large gatherings seem like distant memories now — like black and white movies. The facemask has become part of life, at least for now. We are not even sure of how long we will have to wear it. When was the last time you shook the hand of a friend or hugged a relative? Will you be able to do that again? Is it safe to be in a large gathering? Or go to a wedding? I personally am not sure. But as we are trying to figure out the most appropriate way to resume socialising, I am making an exception this week. I am going to a wedding — for the first time this year.