2020: Year in review
Year of the coronavirus Image Credit: Ador T Bustamante/Gulf News

The sceptics among us will say 2020 has ended the same way it began. With more countries closing their borders and others imposing lockdowns due to the emergence of another strain of the coronavirus, the darkest days of the pandemic are seemingly ahead of us, like US President- elect Joe Biden said the other day.

The optimists meanwhile will argue that the Covid-19 vaccines are here and being rolled out around the world. Things will only get better. They cannot get any worse anyway, can they? I personally don’t think so. I think 2021 will be the year of good news. The signs are there despite the recent setbacks in the UK and the US.

Let us look at the other side of the story. We thought life would stop completely as the world struggled to battle the ferocious virus, which has so far claimed the lives of nearly 2 million people worldwide. By the end of the year, more than 85 million people will have been infected.

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And sure, life as we know it was disrupted and world economies were devastated. However, we have witnessed remarkable things taking place in 2020. The EU and Britain finally reached a historic deal to regulate Brexit. Biden won the presidency.

The UAE sent a pioneering mission to Mars and began operations in the first regional nuclear plant. Peace treaties were signed in the Middle East offering a new vision of peace in the region. Sanctions on Sudan, imposed for decades, were removed.

A critical deal in Yemen between the government and the southern council was singed last week. Syria saw a record low death toll in 2020 as the war seems to be inching towards resolution. And there is the ultimate breakthrough, a coronavirus vaccine was developed by scientists in a record time.

Despite the great setbacks and the agony of 2020 and the endless doomsday predictions by the so-called experts, humanity has managed to survive what can rightly be described as the greatest catastrophe in recent history. The human cost and the financial impact were massive.

But we managed to survive, armed with our greatest weapon: hope. It is not about being pessimistic or optimistic. By definition, we are hopeful creatures. And hope, for thousands of years, drove humanity to overcome its toughest crises.

Year of despair

Philosophers struggle to define hope for centuries. Most have albeit agreed that it is linked to fear and despair, and 2020 can be easily described as the year of fear and despair. On the personal level, we lived most of the year in fear of the ‘other’, leading us to wear a face mask, refrain from shaking hands, avoid gatherings and travel, work from home, and spraying our hands and stuff hundreds of times a day. We have been so fearful it was surreal.

The year was also the year of despair. Hundreds of lives were lost to the pandemic. Millions of families lost their livelihood, millions of small and large businesses closed forever and stock markets crashed around the world. Against that massive global feeling of fear and despair comes hope.

Hope is “a compound attitude, consisting of a desire for an outcome and a belief in that outcome’s possibility,” says the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Hope. It quotes 18th century philosopher Emmanuel Kant as saying that hope is the “unexpected offering of the prospect of immeasurable good fortune.”

At the height of the pandemic, between March and May, many people thought that there was nothing the world can do. The fear and despair took over, completely. But humanity, as resilient as ever, refused to cave in. We were armed by hope, the prospect of immeasurable good fortune, which motivated scientists to speed up their work to come up with the vaccine. They believed they can deliver the ‘desirable outcome’ and they did.

Innate nature of humans

Those sceptics among us, including Joe Biden who thinks the darkest days are yet to come, often look at the downside and overlook the innate nature of humans. The number of infections may increase of course. It has been said before that we may have to coexist with Covid-19 for more than a year, or even two years.

And 2021 may see different variants of the virus that could slow down the economic recovery. The hopefuls among us though have already priced those possibilities in and move on to deliver amazing things.

In the UAE, for example, “We are united in our desire to make 2021 the greatest year for the UAE,” Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, tweeted last week. That is the power of hope and determination to overcome the unprecedented challenges of 2020.

The year 2020 took us by surprise. Nobody was prepared for the coronavirus tsunami. This time around, and as we prepare to welcome 2021, most of us are ready, equipped with the vaccine, the face mask and more importantly, humanity’s greatest weapon: hope.