NO ONE would have thought that it was possible for a person to step into the middle of a market or one major street in a big city, sneeze just once for everybody in the world to catch cold, fall ill and die.
None could have fathomed that fear could so grip the world that even the most brave, rabid and daring would not dare step out of his or her door even for the most enticing engagement or deal.
Like startled dogs, we were all helmed-in and reined into our homes for months (almost one year and still counting) in unprecedented regimes of fear-inspired lockdown, isolation and all manner of personal as well as social ‘distancing.’ 2020 was a year of phobia, anxiety, lack and anomy. It was also a year of resilience, determination, anger and hunger in unimagined proportion. It was a year that rattled the rich as much as the poor; the aged as much as the young and the leaders as it shook the led.
Indeed, this receding year offers foresight to what lies ahead of us in our contemporary world. It also reminds us of some vital things we ignored over time, making up discover how vital they are to survival of humanity even as we had chosen to hold them in derision.
While probing us with things we neglected, the year of odious bloom of the 2019 Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) which ends in nine days points us to our insensitivity and rapid strides away from the real challenges of the world.
Who could not have believed even if we read it in fictions that all the arsenals we have amassed, from atomic bombs to neutron ballistics, nuclear warheads, automatic hand weapons and all the diplomatic arts of states’ destruction, conquest and annexation one virus in aerosol, served in just mouth-full measure could conquer the whole world? Who could have imagined that response to or comment on just ordinary flu or what the United States of America (USA) president, Donald J. Trump, dubbed “Chinese virus” would determine the outcome of mighty ‘God’s own country’s’ presidential polls? And powerful President Trump lost to opposition’s Joe Biden because he underestimated the power of the COVID-19 thing.
Anybody who deeply held in awe the digitisation obsession of the generations after baby-boom, especially the computerisation-crazy millennials, would be deeply disappointed to discover that there is nothing data-driven or coded about the pandemic. We have been swallowing everything about digitisation, hook, line and sinker. Our lives have become swooned in data. Our identities have become minimised to memorable numbers. Persons, brands, locations, no matter how huge, have been reduced to codes, barcodes, PINS et cetera. It is such that it appears that with the press of numbers, everything about every name, place or thing would be known but none of that led us to unravel anything about COVID-19. Nobody seemed to have a clue about it or a magic to its numbers. The flu thing just got all of us from an angle we never had a solution, handy.
That is where the problem stemmed. For over three quarters in 2020, the world suffered COVID-19 and its backlash. The pandemic hailed from very simple quarters, not the paths experts would have conjectured – flu, sneezing, coughing and choking breathing. Even medical studies specialists appeared not to have imagined that humanity can have a challenge from that area.
Had global medical authorities sensed that flu was a trouble to be taken seriously, it would have taken good records of its traits and measures taken to contain it since the Spanish flu of 1918. The 1918 influenza was estimated to have killed about 500 million people with the virus infecting about a third of the world’s population within the 1918 through 1920 it lasted.
It is because medical experts ignored or paid indifferent attention to the flu that 2020 was dangerous, damning and terrible to persons, businesses, states, nation states and the entire world. Our health gurus have the requisite knowledge about the influenza, or flu, a virus that attacks the respiratory system. They know that the flu virus is such a highly contagious causation of ailments that a person infected by it would cough, sneeze, speak or spit out respiratory droplets that can be regenerated and transmitted into the air in an aerosol form which can be inhaled by anyone nearby.
The knowledge that a person who touches something with the virus on it and then touches his or her mouth, eyes or nose can become infected has been around for over a century. Even the devastating lockdowns we have had this year has been with us because during the flu pandemic of 1918, New York City’s health commissioner tried to use it to slow down the transmission of the flu. In the big US city, businesses were ordered to open and close on staggered shifts to avoid overcrowding on the subways yet the measure did only a little to quell the wave.
The world has been aware of the fact that there were periodic flu outbreaks which happen almost yearly and vary in severity, depending on what type of the virus that is spreading, and that flu viruses can rapidly mutate.
History has equally made us know that young children, people over age 65, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease, are at high risk of flu-related complications, including pneumonia, ear and sinus infections and bronchitis. But not much attention or recourse was paid to lessons the 1918 influenza taught us.
We also forgot to learn from another experience as recent as the 2003 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). In 2003, the world had a highly contagious SARS epidemic which ended in July. The life-threatening respiratory infection that degenerated to pneumonia among other damning complications came with force, killed some hundreds of people and left. We neither cared to study its properties properly nor committed enough sweat to create vaccines.
Funding agencies also seemed to have regarded the respiratory difficulty aspect of health as a significant area of high interest. Should they have done so, donors would have channelled their endowments to such causes. Where, for example, the global charity, Rotary Club concentrated on such campaigns as seeking the end of Polio other organisations would have deemed the flu worth the commitment of their fund.
The result is that COVID-19 caught us napping and pants down. The world began an abrupt race to create vaccines. Nations rolled over one another in a bid to get whatever appears like preventive or curative medication for the 2019 variant of the flu. Currently, the vaccine palaver is on top of every other global issue as a handful of drug manufacturing firms, backed by nations are frantically pushing some new drugs they have founded as preventive shots for COVID-19.
Had we been more circumspect and paid more attention to some things that we deemed unimportant, 2020 would not have hit us so badly. Hitherto, even in medical studies, interests in epidemiology, virology, hygiene, primary healthcare among others were not given the kind of attention they recieve now given the challenges COVID-19 has posed to the world.
In 2020, almost every major actor or institution in politics and governance was tasked on effective communication of policy. Carrying people along became a formidable endevour for governments and people. Business organisations discovered corporate social responsibility as unavoidable opportunities to build bonds with their host communities. It was not like this before now.
The challenge posed by 2020 in various sectors, from health to politics to basic health care, pharmacy, sports, organised religion, to economy, presents the future in our hands to study and prepare. Else we may hit a worse season when another quaking year comes.