A Once-in-a-Century Pandemic

We all had plans for 2020. And then a global health pandemic happened.

Nearly a year ago, life as we knew it began to change. From work to school to home, almost every aspect of daily life took a hit. But as the world continues to navigate these unprecedented times, it’s also important to reflect on how we got here.

Around this time last year, we started hearing about a pneumonia-like illness that began infecting people in Wuhan, China. Many early cases were linked to a wet market there (not proved). And Chinese authorities soon started reporting dozens of cases of people experiencing a fever, cough, and trouble breathing. In early January, Chinese researchers identified the cause of the outbreak: a new coronavirus (a type of virus causing respiratory illness). And shortly after, China reported the first known death from the virus – which experts say likely originated in bats and passed through another animal before it jumped to humans.

January…The World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international public health emergency as hundreds died and thousands became infected.

February…The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) started shipping tests in the USA but they were faulty. The WHO said ‘no time to be creative’ and named the coronavirus disease COVID-19.

March…The WHO declared a global pandemic. Wall Street and other financial markets took a dive. Travel bans were put in place in many countries. Many people started working from home (WFH) as offices closed down to curb the virus’s spread. However essential workers, the low paid, self employed, didn’t have that option. Schools were closed and stay at home instructions were given.

Everyone was urged to physical (social) distance from each other, wash their hands, and wear face masks to “flatten the curve.” But government’s sent mixed messages about how to tackle the virus – often conflicting with devolved areas, scientists, and health experts.

The situation improved temporarily over the summer but as schools and universities went back and UK government schemes like “eat out to help out” were put in place, cases started to rise again everywhere.

Other issues

Health care: no amount of ‘thanks’ will ever be enough to show people’s appreciation to health care workers. The country’s frontline workers treated coronavirus patients when there was a global shortage of PPE – personal protective equipment (think: N95 masks and gowns), faulty tests, poor track and trace systems and overwhelmed hospitals. At least 7,000 health care workers worldwide have reportedly lost their lives from the virus. Some hospitals are still facing equipment shortages. And financial uncertainty in part from cancelling all non-urgent procedures – a vital source of revenue – during the pandemic’s early days.

The economy: at the height of the pandemic, the unemployment rates went up a lot as businesses closed, leaving millions of people without jobs. Women were hit especially hard. Supply chains were disrupted and entire industries devastated – from restaurants to airlines to hotels.

Education: a tug of war broke out between parents, teachers, staff, and the government. Some schools pushed for online learning to prevent the virus’s spread. Parents struggled to balance working and teaching from home. And children were stuck in the middle. On the higher education front, some colleges and universities said ‘campus is open.’ But it didn’t take long for some in-person learning to transition back to Zoom, as schools shut down again and university towns became hotspots.

So, where do we stand?

The arrival of winter has had health experts worrying about a “twindemic” – the seasonal flu and the coronavirus combined – that would overwhelm hospitals, stress vital resources, and push another round of lockdowns. And we have seen a surge of coronavirus cases especially with a new variant. Nearly everywhere in the Western world, hospitalisations have gone up, many have had to cancel holiday plans to keep their family safe. Meanwhile, the UK Government is pinning all hopes on a vaccine and increased testing, using flawed systems and contact tracing – to fight the pandemic.

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