Covid-19: What you need to know today
If 2020 was the year of the virus, then 2021 will be, aptly enough, the year of the vaccine. If we hadn’t ended the year with a vaccine — fortunately, we have, and not just one but a handful; and one may well be approved in India on January 1 — 2021 would have been the year of the mutant strain, which makes it sound like what 2020 really was, a pulp horror novel.
But 2020 wasn’t merely the year of the virus.
It was the year of the health care worker. Through the year, around the world, doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health care givers worked around the clock, putting themselves at risk, displaying physical, mental, and emotional stamina of the kind that the world hasn’t seen in decades.
It was the year of the scientist and the researcher, the data scientist and the epidemiologist. Never in history have so many scientists and researchers around the world worked towards the same two objectives as they did in 2020: understanding the virus that caused Covid-19 better; and finding a cure or a vaccine for it. What do we have to show for it? Tens of thousands of research studies, a very clear understanding of the virus and how it attacks the human body, several successful vaccines, and a few drugs that work.
It was the year of the home. It became the office and the school, the gymnasium and the restaurant, and it became, at once, both a sanctuary and a prison.
It was the year of the screen, the year of the Zoom background; the year of baking and family meals.
It was, for people like my parents who are pretty much stuck in Chennai and can’t even meet friends and relatives because they are in the most vulnerable age group, the year of loneliness and fear (neither of which can be assuaged by any amount of video-calling).
It was, for those among us who lost family and friends to the viral disease, a year of pain and sorrow, and a grieving process that seemed all too inadequate.
For me, it was also a year of writing — thanks to this column, I wrote more than I have in years (although probably just as much as I usually rewrite in a couple of months).
But for many others, definitely less privileged than anyone reading this column, 2020 was something else.
For some, it was the year that pushed them back into a life they thought they had left behind; many may have neither the will nor the means to do it all over again.
For some poor students who saw education as a way out of their situation, it was the year that ended their dreams. Many will drop out; some already have, forced to do so either because of their financial circumstances or the inability to follow classes online.
And for some who left home to pursue their dreams elsewhere, it was a year that reminded them just how little they mattered — to the people and establishments they worked for; to the cities and neighbourhoods they lived in; even to governments that are expected to look out for everyone.
And so, even as economists speak of 2021 being the year of the great rebound, and CEOs wax eloquent in investor briefings about how their companies have become more efficient and are on the path to profitability, and the rest of us simply treat 2020 like what it really is for the privileged — a Formula 1 pitstop — it is important to make sure that in this new year, all of us, individuals, companies, governments, do all we can for those whose lives have been ravaged by the year gone by.
They need opportunities; they need understanding; they need the playing field to be levelled; and, they need someone who can help them hold on to their dreams.
Happy New Year.