The COVID-19 pandemic killed more than 1.7 million people worldwide, an undeniable and at least partly avoidable tragedy. Millions were thrown out of work, although the world unemployment rate is still below where it was in the Great Recession; millions more sank back into poverty. The global economy, once expected to grow by 2.5 percent, shrank by an estimated 4 percent. Every disaster, every dumb decision, every celebrity death, and every personal injury we blamed on 2020, as if a unit of time could be out to get us.
Let us list the 10 most important developments in a year that desperately needed them.
1. Healthier lifestyles
Many people around the world have chosen a healthier lifestyle for themselves. They are exercising more and taking care of their health, causing a general decline in healthcare spends globally. Obesity rates have dramatically decreased, and people are healthier than they ever were before.
2.The rise of delivery services and technology
Delivery services powered by IoT and AI have become the new normal. As shops continue to remain shut, most businesses have moved online to ensure that they can run their business to near-normal levels. This has become the new normal for restaurants, shops and even large corporates like Zara that have shut down their stores in favor of online marketplaces. Smaller shopkeepers have also adopted the power of technology to get their business online and maximize profits during the lockdown.
Although the list of problems caused by the pandemic is a never-ending list, the list of benefits of the lockdown has started to catch up with them. This radical shift in mindsets has completely changed our lives and in some ways, for the better.
3. Focus on essential workers
Supermarket cashiers, shelf-stackers and delivery drivers are not generally thought of as heroes. But the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the essential roles played by key workers who we all depend on.
Across Europe, people locked in their houses have been applauding their medical staff and other key workers who are continuing to go to work despite the health risks. Suddenly, these often low paid workers are getting the appreciation they deserve.
4. Break in routine, time to restructure life
It’s commonly thought that time spent alone provides an opportunity to stop and reflect. With social distancing measures limiting people’s lives, it is a good time to have a think about what really matters.
Psychology shows that people are more open to habit changes at times of upheaval, so the COVID-19 lockdown is a good window for making lifestyle changes. Whether it’s pursuing a new career, moving to the countryside or focusing on your family, now’s the time to make that move.
5. Carbon emissions fell by the largest amount ever recorded
As economies have ground to a halt, so has fossil fuel usage. Carbon emissions are set to decrease by 8 percent in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic causes the biggest shock to the global energy system in over 70 years, according to the International Energy Agency.
In China, the country with the world’s biggest carbon footprint, emissions were cut by a quarter. The decrease has led to reports of cleaner air in locations across the world.
6. We started a work-from-home revolution
A lot of genies were let out of bottles this year; one of the largest was the number of people who discovered they really don’t need to be in the office to be productive. An estimated 3.4 percent of the U.S. workforce was allowed to work at home pre-pandemic, a number that had barely budged from 2.9 percent in 2015. Now, says one Stanford economist, it’s 42 percent. Despite what some office-loving managers might have expected, the sky did not fall. Indeed, without the commute getting in the way, people appear to be spending more time on their jobs, not less.
The post-pandemic implications are huge. Many companies have realized they didn’t need all that expensive office space. Many employees have realized they can work from anywhere; many families are spending this holiday season figuring out where “anywhere” is. How it all shakes out in 2021 is anyone’s guess, but a number of tech firms like Twitter have already announced their employees have the option to work from home forever. It seems unlikely that the number of work-from-homers will ever drop into single-digit percentages again.
7. We made the land greener
The coronavirus pandemic taught us to live without fuel-guzzling bikes, cars and personal vehicles. As more and more people decided to walk and cycle, there was an immediate impact on the environment of both industrial and non-industrial cities, making the air cleaner than it was even 50 years ago in some cases.
8. We made the oceans cleaner
You probably didn’t notice given everything else going on in December, but 14 nations that own 40 percent of the world’s coastline just banded together to create the world’s biggest ocean sustainability initiative. In other words, an area of ocean the size of Africa will now be focused on restoring fish populations and reefs while eliminating plastic.
That’s just part of an impressive patchwork of new ocean rules and sanctuaries created this year, one of them three times larger than the UK. Such protections are working: The UN recently announced that the amount of large fish in the formerly-overfished Mediterranean and Black Sea has doubled in the last two years.
9. We saved millions of lives with new vaccines.
In January, when the terrifyingly unknown virus called COVID-19 had killed just 26 people in Wuhan, Chinese scientists sequenced its genetic code and shared it with the world. The world lost no time in developing multiple vaccines, spending billions of dollars and racing toward human trials in mere months. Before 2020, no vaccine had ever been developed, trialed and approved in less than four years. We did it in less than 12 months — twice.
Distributing the vaccines far and wide remains a challenge for 2021. But given experts once cautioned we may not even see a vaccine next year, the fact that healthcare workers are getting their shots in December is cause for celebration. And all that data from the accelerated effort will have knock-on effects. The dream of a single mRNA shot that can protect against multiple diseases is much closer now; mRNA also has applications in the fight against cancer. What we did this year will save millions of lives in the future, even when COVID-19 is a distant memory.
10. Increased family time
Our busy lifestyles had left us with no time for family and friends, causing us to lead increasingly solitary lives. The resultant lockdown post the pandemic has brought friends, families and neighbours closer than ever before. As people spend more and more time together, they are strengthening their bond with friends and family, making their lives fuller and happier.
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