How COVID-19 took over the world in 2020


How COVID-19 took over the world in 2020

Sunday, January 03, 2021

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Almost no place has been spared — and no one.

The virus that first emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019 swept across the world in 2020, leaving havoc in its wake. More than any event in memory, the pandemic has been a truly global event. On every continent, households have felt its devastation — joblessness and lockdowns, infirmity and death. And an abiding, relentless fear.

At the end of last year, promising vaccines offered a glimmer of hope amid a cresting second wave of contagion.

Journalists from The Associated Press around the world assessed how the countries where they are posted have weathered the pandemic — and where those countries stand in year two of the contagion.


The story of COVID-19 in Brazil is the story of a president who insists the pandemic is no big deal. Jair Bolsonaro condemned COVID-19 quarantine, saying shutdowns would wreck the economy and punish the poor. He scoffed at the “little flu,” then trumpeted the fatalistic claim nothing could stop 70 per cent of Brazilians from falling ill. And he refused to take responsibility when many did. He poured money into the economy to ease the pain of the pandemic. But while Bolsonaro could have inspired people to hunker down, he instead encouraged them to flout local restrictions.


Workers have returned to factories and offices, students are back in the classroom and once again long lines form outside popular hot spot restaurants. In the cities, wearing a surgical mask — though no longer required outside of subways and other crowded places — has become a habit. In many ways, normal life has resumed in China, the country where COVID-19 first appeared two years ago. China's ruling communist party has retracted some of the most sweeping anti-disease controls ever imposed. The challenge is jobs: The economy is growing again, but the recovery is uneven.


Germans enjoyed a largely relaxed summer with many restrictions lifted, the dividend of a rapid response to the initial coronavirus outbreak and a reliance on early and widespread testing that won wide praise. It brought the number of daily COVID-19 cases down from a peak of more than 6,000 in late March to the few hundreds by the warmer months. But as people grew lax in following the rules the numbers began to climb to nearly quadruple the March daily record, and the country now finds itself in a new lockdown as it tries to bring the pandemic back under control.


A nation of 1.3 billion people, India is likely to emerge as the country with the world's highest coronavirus tally. It responded to the pandemic early on with an abrupt nationwide lockdown, but the number of cases spiked as restrictions eased and its creaky public health system struggled to keep up. Questions have been raised about its unusually low death rate. India's virus worries are also multiplied by its struggling economy that recorded its worst performance in at least two decades. It will be the worst-affected among the world's major economies even after the pandemic wanes.


In late February of last year, Italy became the epicentre of COVID-19 in Europe and a cautionary tale of what happens when a health care system in even one of the wealthiest parts of the world collapses under the weight of pandemic sick and dead. When the second wave hit in September, even the lessons learned from the first weren't enough to spare Italy's disproportionately old population from devastation. Despite plans and protocols, monitoring systems and machinery that were put in place to hedge against the expected autumn onslaught, thousands more died and hospitals once again were brought to the breaking point.


The COVID-19 pandemic in Japan had a turbulent start last February when a luxury cruise ship returned to its near-Tokyo home port carrying passengers and crewmembers; their infections exploded during quarantine. The handling of the Diamond Princess triggered criticism that Japanese health officials botched the quarantine, turning the vessel into a virus incubator. Despite concerns whether the country could survive future waves of infections, Japan has been spared the dangerous surges seen in the US and Europe, and hopes to host the Olympics this summer. Experts say the use of masks and border control have been key to keeping the Japanese caseload low.


They say youth is a protective factor against COVID-19. In Kenya, youth have suffered anyway. From children forced into hard labour and prostitution, to schools closed for months, from a child shot dead by police enforcing curfew, to babies born in desperate conditions, the effects of the pandemic in Kenya have fallen hard on the young. Growing economic pressures, and Kenya's intention to close schools for almost everyone until this year, has put enormous pressure on children, who were suddenly left to drift by the millions. Some now split rocks in quarries, or have turned to prostitution or theft.

South Africa

In the world's most unequal country, the disease hit the poor the hardest and the economic downturn sent unemployment to 42 per cent. But South Africa had a secret weapon: Health professionals who are veterans of the country's long-standing battles against HIV/AIDS and drug-resistant TB. The country's leaders heeded their advice on how to deal with the coronavirus, and though there have been ups and downs, the worst-case scenarios have not yet come to pass.


In 2020, Spaniards normalised things unimaginable only 12 months before. But 2020 will also go down as the year in which an unknown virus shook the foundations of the social contract and threw into question a system that failed to prevent so many deaths. Politicians boast that the system didn't collapse during that first wave, when the country recorded 929 deaths in a single day. But health professionals will tell you that the actual cost was overworked staff who fell sick more than anywhere else in the world and suffered a huge emotional toll.


Americans have been inundated by wave after wave of grim numbers — COVID-19 deaths in the hundred thousands, infections in the millions. While those figures testify to a tragedy of historic proportions, they don't fully capture the multitude of ways, large and small, that the virus has upended and rejiggered everyday life. For that, though, there are a host of other numbers, some more familiar than others, but all just as telling in tracking the pandemic's sweeping impact.

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