It was a year like no other, an extraordinary year in which people gave up their freedom and agreed to be locked in their houses in order to halt the spread of a deadly virus. It was a year in which one strange virus unknown in human history stood the world upside down. Across the world, nothing worked. Long-established practices and protocols were abandoned at short notice in response to the novel coronavirus that was eventually baptised COVID-19.
COVID-19 was notorious and nasty. It came with too many uncertainties and strange features. It mystified the world, especially the medical and scientific communities. When people prayed for long life, they received death, no thanks to COVID-19. When people prayed for success, they were rewarded with failure. When people asked for good health, they were confronted by ill health. When people prayed for better jobs, they were retrenched from their existing jobs.
People who took extraordinary precautions to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or apply hand sanitisers or wore face masks or observe basic hygiene routines in order to stay safe were hit hard as were people who did not observe any of these health practices.
People who contracted and survived the disease and those who lost their lives were not necessarily careless. It seemed that the more people took care to avoid contracting the disease, the more they were struck by the virus. There is nowhere to hide. Whatever you did to avoid COVID-19, it seemed obvious that men, women, the young, and the elderly were programmed to die.
COVID-19 brought with it some bizarre lifestyles and ways of doing business. Who would have thought that it would be possible to wear a mask to go into a bank without being wrestled or shot by security officials? Who would have thought it was possible to use hand sanitisers frequently as body cream without worrying about the impact on the skin? In the era of terrorism, who could have imagined it would be possible to travel by air locally and internationally with your face half concealed in a mask?
The virus also affected the mode of religious services as it did other human activities. Churches that relied on tithes, alms, and other forms of offerings as ways to raise revenue had to shut down to observe lockdowns imposed by governments. So did schools and universities.
The most revealing part of 2020 was that all the pastors, preachers, and prophets who boasted about their divine power to heal the sick and raise the dead did not foresee and could not predict the emergence of COVID-19 and the devastating impact it would have on the world. These men and women cleverly avoided visiting COVID-19 clinics or isolation centres or hospital wards to cure those who were stricken by the virus.
COVID-19 took a heavy toll on human populations. The elderly were the most vulnerable. But the virus also claimed many middle-aged people and young ones. Every day the number of the sick and the dead continued to mount. Every day, new milestones were attained. For the whole of 2020, nothing could halt the rapid spread of the disease.
In response to the outbreak of the virus, many countries, led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), initiated rigorous hygiene protocols such as wearing of face masks, maintaining social distance of at least 1.5 metres, washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitisers and wipes to incapacitate the virus, restricting the number of people who could gather in public places, including restaurants, sports venues, gyms, churches, mosques, schools, universities, weddings, funerals, and other places.
Despite these health measures, COVID-19 showed its toughness. As the world looked frantically for a cure or vaccine, the virus mutated or altered itself in various forms. In parts of the world, the disease arrived in waves. While some countries celebrated prematurely that they had overpowered the disease, the virus returned with more deadly fangs. The first wave was mild compared to the impact of the second wave or third wave. The disease was just too elusive to be captured and quarantined in a closet.
To tackle the challenges posed to human population, including disruptions to economies, healthcare services, national security, government programmes, projects, and agendas, many countries threw in billions of dollars as palliatives to kickstart businesses that collapsed, to sustain individuals who lost their jobs, to provide financial support to researchers who could not travel or continue with their activities owing to restrictions on domestic and international travels.
Everywhere you looked, there was disaster written on the face of the world. It was a helpless situation that left many people and governments with no easy solutions to the virus.
As the virus spread, so did conspiracy theories about its origins, about whether it was a laboratory experiment gone wrong, about whether it was a natural outbreak of a disease, about whether one country deliberately released the virus as a way to reinforce its supremacy over other world powers. In fact, there was no shortage of unsupported claims about the virus. If you were looking for mischievous claims about the virus, you would find them in the theories that circulated and still flowed seamlessly on social media.
COVID-19 is a disease like no other. The year 2020 was known and hated as the year that brought unprecedented tragedies. Although we celebrated the exit of 2020, the disasters it left behind are still with us. The year has gone but COVID-19 remains with us. It would be too presumptuous to think that the onset of 2021 would herald the end of the virus. Never under-estimate the impact of a global pandemic such as COVID-19.
Coronavirus threw families asunder and into mourning. Once a COVID patient is admitted into the intensive care unit of a hospital, families are no longer able to visit or see their loved one until they are discharged. And, if the person passes away in hospital, the body will not be released to family members. In this context, families are not able to say their final farewell to their loved ones. That is an inconsolable way to see a loved one suffer and die alone. That is how COVID-19 is causing trauma to families.
In cities and villages, people who are known to have the symptoms of COVID-19 are avoided like a plague. Think about the Spanish flu that killed more than 50 million people between 1918 and 1920. This underlines the importance of social distancing as a way to reduce the spread of the virus. What a year. What a disease. What a disaster. What a nightmare.
Although vaccination might be the solution to the spread of the virus, that view remains to be confirmed. While the first set of vaccinations are currently underway in the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, and some other countries, doubts remain about their capacity and potency to conquer the disease once and for all, as well as the level of risks posed by the vaccines to people who are taking them, and whether life and businesses would return to normal after vaccination.