A butterfly flapped its wings somewhere, and caused chaos everywhere.
It was in December 2019, when a deadly virus was first reported to cause a respiratory problem in humans, in ‘Wuhan’, a city in China. Identified as Novel Coronavirus, its genetic links were soon traced to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak of 2003, hence the crown-shaped virus was named SARS-CoV-2. The disease caused by it was officially named ‘COVID-19’ (Coronavirus Disease-2019). This novel Coronavirus was quick to spread past China, in Asian countries, and then well beyond the continent. Finally, the World Health Organisation (WHO), declared COVID-19 to be a Pandemic, alerting all countries to take the requisite measures to contain the spread.
This article makes an attempt at summing-up the year 2020 (in no particular chronology) w.r.t. COVID-19, the terror of which, continues to haunt the world in 2021, at the time when this article is being written.
RISING COVID-19 CASES
While the world casually scrolled through the news of the few cases of ‘viral Pneumonia of unknown cause’ at Wuhan, in Hubei province of China, Coronavirus with its deadly nature, silently spread across the globe. Amid the first reported death due to the virus in Thailand, studies began to be conducted and WHO reported that the outbreak was being caused by a novel Coronavirus. Multiple countries started confirming their first few COVID-19 cases, of which most of the cases could be linked to Wuhan. India also confirmed its first such case of Novel Coronavirus, on January 30, 2020.
The first few cases of SARS-CoV-2 soon escalated to become more than the country’s medical infrastructure could handle. In that need of hour, many ad-hoc medical facilities were set up, including in stadiums, hotels, trains, etc. meanwhile proper infrastructure was being arranged.
As the number of cases soared, countries resorted to international travel restrictions to limit the outbreak among their citizens. Amid travel restrictions, closing down of educational institutes, and rising death toll, many countries or states also declared a state of emergency. New guidelines were introduced by many countries and by WHO, w.r.t. new social etiquettes to be followed among the public.
The world saw new public gathering guidelines being released by WHO and most countries, specifying the expected etiquettes to be followed by people in public .India also released such guidelines, and made it reach to the masses through the means of caller tune of mobile phones, from radios, etc. This was done with the aim that the information reached to as many people as possible. India took measures ranging from initiating a country-wide caller tune emphasizing on the necessary hygiene etiquettes, and social distancing norms of “do gaj doori”. In the meantime, India also launched its own contact-tracing application, Aarogya Setu, which alerted the user about the COVID status of the other app users around them, with the aim to reduce the chances of contracting the virus. The app also garnered negative media attention for its allegedly weak software that breached the privacy of the users. Other measures such as awareness about the use of facemasks was also done through the same means. While Venezuela became the first country to ensure mandatory use of face masks, many other countries followed, and made it a compulsion.
But it was soon realised that mere social distancing rules did not stop the cases from surging, countries had to give in and impose state and nationwide lockdowns in a hope to reduce this surge.
Lockdown, as restrictive as it may sound, the term rapidly became popular worldwide, as governments made its social-distancing norms stricter. The advanced type of social distancing was called lockdown. Countries found social-distancing norms to be ineffective in populated regions, hence brought in legal guidelines mandating everyone to stay at home. Since lockdown demanded closing the whole country’s functions, including most businesses and services, authorities were aware of the potential problems connected to the lockdown rules. But in many places, the governments failed to ensure smooth transition into lockdown and the largely vulnerable sections had to face the consequences of it. For instance, in an attempt to realise the full potential of social distancing, India stopped its domestic transportation amid the nationwide lockdown. This, henceforth, caused much turbulence in the lives of the country’s migrant workers who did not have a fixed source of income and proper shelter in the cities they had immigrated into. The government was soon alerted by the state of affairs, and it took myriad measures with the aim of relieving the plight of the migrant workers. The Railway Ministry on May 1 resumed passenger movement through Shramik Special Trains. This facility was used by more than 58 lakh migrants. Around 41 lakh migrants were also transported through roadways. Other provisions such as affordable housing, financial aid (by some states), and food and medical facilities were also extended to the migrants. Not only governments, but also many concerned citizens provided for the migrants’ needs. But the provisions did not reach them universally. Many such vulnerable communities continued to suffer during this strenuous lockdown period. While there were many challenges, India still decided to extend its nationwide lockdown to curtail the rate of COVID-19 cases, before easing these restrictions in the latter half of 2020. Besides India, there were many other countries which opted for a nationwide lockdown, by shutting all non-essential businesses. Economic problems ranging from soaring unemployment rates, to negative GDP growth, were seen as an after-effect of the lockdown, though such a situation was not limited to India. In fact, except China, all the major economies saw a negative GDP growth rate as a severe impact of the pandemic. Such an economic slowdown across the globe, brought in the need of reopening the country’s economy.
The new social distancing requirements were made stronger, by authorities laying down the exact number of people allowed to be gathered in one place at a time. This made it more convenient to safely unlock the countries, out of their precautionary lockdowns. In the backdrop of these challenges, firms and industries also suffered a huge set-back in the lockdown period; however, corporates deviced new ways of continuing the work even during the lockdown.
WORK FROM HOME: A New Normal?
Even during the daunting COVID-19 crisis, the world did not stop evolving. With lockdown in force, families connected through video conferencing applications, work spaces shifted to the couch of the employees’ living rooms. Rather than shutting down the work, many companies moulded their work to fit in the online work atmosphere. Video conferencing applications saw a surge in their stock value, and became more important than ever. While some companies could resort to this mode of working, many industries continued to face the drawback of lockdown, due to their indispensable requirement of presence of the workmen. This also led to mass layoffs, and surge in unemployment rates. Worst hit were the employees of the industries like aviation, restaurants, hospitality, industrial manufacturing units, micro small and medium enterprises, to name a few. The situation was slightly pacified with the gradual lifting of lockdown restrictions.
While for some work-from-home was not a possibility,others saw it as a blessing in guise. This flexible system of working does not only give a worker the extra time and money saved out of their travel needs, but also garners the extra family-time one can enjoy while working from home. Moreover, not just for employees, this system has turned out to be profitable even for the employers, who saved up on their costs, and in return received even higher productivity from their employees. Various companies are considering switching to the Remote/Work from home, in the near future. Some companies whose nature of work was realised to be apt for remote/home operations, have taken a lesson from 2020, and decided to permanently work remotely.
Companies like Skillshare, Spotify, Facebook, Infosys, Twitter, TCS, are some of the few companies either considering to opt, or have already opted for remote working, for most of their employees. This being done, many predict that the future offices would be virtually shifted to the homes of the respective employees, involving minimal carbon-footprint, owing to the cut on their daily travel requirements. This would also save space in the cities for firms that indispensably require office-presence of their employees.
While the whole world tried to shift itself to a virtual mode of working, social interactions through social media portals spiked up like never before. With most of the world working from the confines of their homes away from the physical reality, false news found an easy way inside these homes. This was another major challenge amidst the pandemic.
CONTAINING THE VIRAL MISINFORMATION
The expansive outreach developed by social media, comes with its own caveats, concerning the validity of the information passed on as true. Mass media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, etc. are usually the platter of fake news surrounding any major event. The quantum of false facts on social media, becomes multi-fold during disasters and situations of chaos, in this case it was during a Pandemic. The most disturbing part of this, was the source of such misinformation during the pandemic. Shockingly, politicians, including but not limited to, Donald Trump, were one of the most surprising fake news bearers.
Exaggerated reactions of people to the news of lockdown, also caused problems like people hoarding unnecessary amounts of house supplies, thus causing situations of scarcity in the already low-producing market. False news about vaccines, the virus, and healthcare in general, led the World Health Organisation to responsibly acknowledge this trend. Apart from naming the infamous disease, COVID-19, the organisation was wise to coin another word called, “Infodemic”, signalling the need to contain the equally dangerous contagion- false news.
The world, in the year 2020, has seen an unprecedented period in the grip of the novel Coronavirus. With new types of restrictions on movement and gatherings, the world has cooperated to its fullest, in limiting the spread of the contagion. While managing to curb the effect of SARS-CoV-2, countries faced lots of economic and social issues, ranging from negative GDP growth, economic crisis, to seeing the plight of the most vulnerable sections.
Despite these challenges, the world has been constantly trying to regain its previous momentum, through being innovative in managing firms remotely. The new concept of Work From Home (WFH), has transformed the corporate world. With many firms realising their full potential even with the purely online mode, many have decided to switch to this remote-working mode permanently. While some industries still faced challenges in coping with the effects of lockdown, since such an online work platform could not work-out for the nature of their work.
While the world was physically disconnected, the internet kept everyone pulled together. But this did not come without its first-world challenges. With lack of information about the novel virus, and the already confusing state of affairs, social media platforms were misused to cause an “infodemic”, amidst the ongoing pandemic.
The year 2020 has had a unique impact on different groups of society. It was a rollercoaster ride for the medical fraternity as well. With so many positive and negative aspects of the same event, the world has only evolved together, by fighting together against the deadly wave of the disease, and now finally walking on the path of victory over the virus.