#COVID19Chronicles-267: December 31, 2020-A world changed

It will be hard for many to recall what else happened this year other than the pandemic and its effects when the year 2020 is mentioned. Wags will have quips for decades about the meaning of ‘2020 vision’ (looking forward to 2021?). Who foresaw this, really, even though whispers within credible intelligence circles (and cases, it appears) warning of a “cataclysmic” event were in the air from 2019?

In the final months of this year, though, we’ve been treated to a late attempt to steal the thunder from the storm by the petulant behaviour of the US president, who has taken public denial of losing to new and absurd limits, in trying to overturn a democratic election that he lost by so much that it’s a disgrace to even try to call it close. So, the sour taste of pandemic stress has been given the added acidity of a series of lies and dissembling that defies reason. The most absurd this week was a tweet from POTUS45 implying that he’d won the Nobel prize…but, goofing it by displaying the wrong medal!

Worse, he’s almost totally checked out of the job he wants so desperately, playing golf while his country spirals daily into worsening pandemic woes.

The third place finisher in my mind would be Brexit, which the UK completed today by passing the trade bill in Parliament, recalled for an emergency one-day session.

The Queen’s approval came just after midnight UK time, just ahead of the deadline today for the end of the transition period:

Brexit might have broken the Opposition Labour Party, as it split on the vote:

The Brexit ‘planning’ process has been a kick in the teeth of UK business:

Sadly, I think the average Briton will have a series of shocks to face on many aspects of life during 2021 and beyond as the reality of exiting the European Union (EU) truly hits home, remembering that 2020 was a transition period, with many EU links still in tact.

Cynics would point to the terrible twins, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, as being natural picks in the making of any miserable year. 😩

Wuhan, a year on from where the pandemic began? Fragile calm:

But, the 2020 pandemic gave lots of thing to help us think about change and how it gets momentum. I’ll just touch on a few aspects.

First, language:

In the late spring, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) editors issued an update, and again in July, the dictionary’s editors released special updates, citing a need to document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the English language. They have documented many coronavirus-related linguistic shifts. They claim, that the pandemic has produced only one truly new word: the acronym COVID (Covid)-19. I haven’t checked to see if similar exercises were done for other languages. Maybe, that’s a task for 2021.)

But, if you look at the updates, they are great reminders of what the year had as its focus. We learned to think about life differently and that meant using some words more than ever, learning new words, and using words and phrases in new ways. Here are a few; the list is just a few that stick in my head:

Pandemic; Social distancing; Wear a mask; Stay at home/Tan ah yuh yaad (Jamaican Patois equivalent); Self-isolate, self-isolated and shelter in place; Elbow-bump; 6 feet/2 metres distance; Zoom…Zoombombing; Mute; Testing (rapid, PCR); Curfew: Bubbles; “Rona”; Face mask; Sanitizing; Quarantine.

You may have others to add, or a completely different set.

I also asked my family and some friends for a few words that summed up 2020. The list has many of the stress-related terms that seem fitting:

Daunting, unusual, resilience. Frustration. Anticipation, violation, annihilation, celebration. Patience, self-awareness, growth, perseverance, hope. Reflection. Resilience, grief, solitude. Gratitude.

Life during the pandemic has meant much more isolation and much less freedom of movement than many have had to deal with before, and it has some severe mental health consequences that are now getting more prominence.

Gratitude, for health and health service workers, runs through many minds, especially in the UK and USA, where the pandemic has been mismanaged by the two countries best prepared for it!

Patience has had to come to the fore and many took to therapeutic activities like gardening, exercise, reading, binge-watching, home projects, and waiting for results–all of which have much demand for patience and seeing things through.

As the year has progressed, we’ve learned to shift expecations:

-from hoping the pandemic would be short-lived;

-to managing the variety of restrictions to what was normal life, such as lock-downs;

-to dealing with tragedies of friends and relatives getting infections and dying or recovering or living with lingering symptom;

-to hoping that surges and spikes would flatten fast;

-to wondering why so many sought and fought to not take precautions;

-to hoping that vaccines would be tested and passed fast;

to hearing of their successes;

-to the first roll out of vaccinations in many countries.

Relationships have had to survive long-distances and long time spans between contacts. Some of those relations are not familial, but cover work and education, where the consequences of breaks and changes in how things are done are have not been pure successes. While many relish working from home, many students do not relish online learning, and children really miss playing and associating with their peers. Some haven’t handled that well and the media has been littered with stories of people breaking health protocols, sadly, too many of them were people who either were in charge of making rules or who had the means to flaunt them and likely get away with it.

Attire has changed in many settings, as informality has taken hold: suit pyjamas; casual clothes; beards; no mani pedi; no haircuts. Watching TV broadcasts now show the many ways people have adapted their wardrobes and looks during the pandemic. The ‘fake’ backdrop has gained life; please ignore my messy life 🙂

‘Play’ has had to make many adjustments. People have learned many advantages of outdoor space and activities that can be done solo at home or outside, with limited need for human interaction, directly. The surge in online physical training regimes is stunning. But, the virtual world has captured almost every social activity–book clubs, religious practices; education; sport (fake fans and piped noise). Who’s run a virtual marathon?

Everyone better get to grips with digital technology.

Communication has been at a premium, especially in trying to get messages to massive audiences–and its counterpart of disinformation has fought hard for space. Spokespersons on health matters have taken centre stage.

But, simple, interpersonal communication has also changed: eg, the wave or shout at a distance, instead of hugs and kisses; drive-by parties instead of parties at home. I’m gearing up to a Zoom party to see in the New Year 🙂 Sadly funerals by Zoom or similar have taken the place of in-person attendance at burials or memorials and many are hurting because their normal rituals for marking the end of life have not been possible. For many, closure hasn’t been made.

Finally, In Jamaica, and elsewhere, communication can be simple and non-verbal signals. The pandemic has neutered the many gestures given with eyes and mouth: though we smile and hope that somehow that shows, it’s clear that the messages aren’t as clear as they used to be. Warmth and friendliness may be there, still, but hides, waiting for the mask to slip of be removed. But, we may never again live in a world where the mask is removed for ever.

Blessings for a year lived under duress. Hopes for a year to come that has much less of that.

#COVID19Chronicles-266: December 30, 2020-Economic conditions in Latin America and the Caribbean

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) published its ‘Regional economic outlook’. yesterday, with an assessment of economic conditions in Latin America and the Caribbean: things have been hard, especially for tourism-dependent countries, like Jamaica:

The scale of the harsh impact is well summarised with this comment:

‘COVID-19 has hit Latin America and the Caribbean harder than other parts of the world, both in human and economic terms. The relatively large human toll is evident: with only 8.2 percent of the world population, the region had 28 percent of cases and 34 percent of deaths, by end-September.’

That’s because ‘comparatively more people work in activities that require close physical proximity, and less people have jobs in which teleworking is feasible…in addition to a high degree of informality and poverty, and combined with lower trade and financial turbulence’.

The IMF highlights why the Caribbean suffered more:

‘Dependent on tourism for anywhere between 20 to 90 percent of GDP and employment, Caribbean countries were the hardest hit. Despite being relatively successful at containing the virus spread, the sudden stop in tourist arrivals and local lockdowns was equivalent to a cardiac arrest to their economies.’

Coming out of the pandemic will be an economic challenge:

‘The recovery is expected to be protracted. Our forecast is for growth of 3.6 percent in 2021. Most countries will not go back to pre-pandemic GDP until 2023, and real income per capita until 2025, later than any other region.’

But the policy outlook is clear:

‘Policies should remain focused on containing the pandemic and cementing the recovery. Premature withdrawal of fiscal support should be avoided. However, further support should be accompanied by explicit, legislated and clearly communicated commitments to consolidate and rebuild fiscal defenses over the medium term.’

#COVID19Chronicles-265: December 29, 2020-Some thoughts on streaming trends

This year has seen many well-established trends get flipped into the air. One of these is how people enjoy visual entertainment. With more people forced to stay at home and not congregate, watching at home has become a much bigger feature of life. The already popular trend of streaming video content was boosted.

In recent days, Warner Brothers showed their new policy of a new blockbuster film opening in cinemas but also being streamed, immediately, with the release of ‘WW84’ (that’s Wonder Woman 1984, to you), for 31 days:

It hit records, for the pandemic, though far below previous levels.

It grossed an ‘estimated $16.7 million in revenues over Christmas weekend, the best three-day debut at the distressed domestic box office since the novel coronavirus began’. This was the lowest number in decades for a Christmas winner. The film opened in 2,150 cinemas in the U.S. and Canada on Dec. 25. The sequel has now earned $85 million at the box office, including a foreign tally of $68.3 million. As in the U.S., there are a number of theatre reclosures across Europe and other regions. (One territory that has rebounded is China, although WW84 hasn’t found its footing in the Middle Kingdom, where it finished Sunday with a 10-day total of $23.9 million.)

But, we’ve been headed this way during the pandemic, as people have watched more, especially during lockdowns:

What’s interesting is that people have started more viewing and completed it. They have also gone more for news than plain entertainment; not surprising, when one thinks of the nature of the global pandemic and its course.

Streaming subscriptions have surged, and people are using every means to enjoy visual (and audio) content, especially on devices:

Free trials from streaming services flowed like water during the pandemic, and many services offered bumper offers, up to 30 days, instead of 7-days:

But, we are now seeing that people are getting burned as free trials come to an end and the sticker shock of monthly subscriptions hits much to the surprise of many. This was not just a feature of streaming services, but also online retail:

It seems fitting that around Christmas there’s a twist to the financial headaches that people face after the holiday, as they now have to scour their accounts for unexpected charges for the fun they have have had. It’s been that kind of year.

#COVID19Chronicles-264: December 28, 2020-Beards, anyone?

The BBC in 2014 offered some commentary on beards (and facial hair, by implication): ’Both beards and clean-shaven faces became more appealing when they were rare.’

It went on: ‘Some say the Rubicon was crossed in January when Jeremy Paxman, the BBC Newsnight presenter, shaved his beard off, saying “beards are SO 2013”. Paxman’s beard-which briefly trended on Twitter-sparked a debate about pogonophobia-the fear of beards.’

That fear or dislike is prevalent in the Caribbean; that’s in contrast to, say, the Middle East, where beard wearing is spurred by Muslim traditions–God ordered Mohamed to keep his beard:

‘Muslims learn about the Prophet’s views on facial hair not from the Koran, but through hadith-or sayings-attributed to Muhammad. One such hadith, in a collection by Muslim scholar Muhammad al-Bukhari centuries ago, stipulates: “Cut the moustaches short and leave the beard.”’

In Muslim cultures, enforcement problems exist. Some Muslim countries went ‘modern’ with some scholars not bearded, eg in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan. By contrast, the Taliban in Afghanistan were strict on beards and their length.

Having lived in a Muslim west African country, I can tell you that beards are rare in black Africa. I can’t recall seeing any, and I’m scratching my head trying to recall visiting some areas where fundamentalist Muslims were in charge.

The BBC gave us some historical perspectives: “In the 1970s it was handlebar moustaches. In the 80s it was Magnum PI moustaches. In the 90s we saw a lot of clean shaven men, and now big bushy beards are back.”

But, then, in 2020, beards have made a resurgence–as they have done in the past, when times are hard. Thanks, COVID-19!

Now, it’s almost a sign that people are really into COVID19Life that they are in full beard, or at worst, clearly not shaved for a few days. Whereas, many TV personalities wouldn’t be seen in front of cameras with a beard, it’s now a ‘status’ symbol.

We see a lot more athletes with beards, even in those tight-lipped sports like golf.

But, in Jamaica, and some Caribbean countries, beards have often been symbols of the outcast and the unkempt, so it’s more of a challenge to get past that and get a beard going.

On the Internet, #COVIDBeard can trend.

Santa has a beard, but the Grinch?

Celebrities embracing the natural look has given beards the push over the line.

Masks mean that people often don’t see the fuzz on the face. But, beards are *hair to stay*, for a while. 😂

Hair, hair!! 👍🏾🤔

#COVID19Chronices-263: December 27, 2020: The COVID-19 grinch still has business to do at Christmas

Germany and Hungary didn’t wait for the EU-wide coordinated rollout of vaccines and got started yesterday:

But, as those signs of progress come into view, the new strain of COVID-19, first identified in the UK, is now appearing in more places, and suggesting that it might have been around for a while elsewhere, for example, in Canada:

So, hopes that the COVID grinch was going away for Christmas get replaced by anxieties over whether the current vaccine will deal with the new strain.

But, let’s live with the positives of hope from the vaccine.

In the Caribbean, it looks like Cuba will lead other countries as its vaccine development is well-advanced, with phase 2 of clinical trials underway.

It’s planning to have a large proportion of its population vaccinated by the first quarter of 2021, ahead of Jamaica and other English-speaking countries. Its vaccine, however, will not be available to Jamaica:

It’s hard to see everything as merry and bright, but let’s keep trying. 😦

#COVID19Chronicles-262: December 26, 2020-Boxed-in Day

Differences between Christmas traditions are always of interest. Today, ‘Boxing Day’, is one that marks the UK apart from the USA; it exists in the former and its former colonies, but not in the USA. The BBC points to some of the linguistic ones. But, several differences are also there, elsewhere in the ‘English-speaking’ world. While I’m often uttering “Chrimbo” in Jamaica, I know from the blank reactions that my listener often has no idea what I mean.

Christmas dinner with friends, included apple pie and ambrosia pudding 🙂 Festive wear yesterday and ‘ugly’ sweater today 🙂

I’m not going to discuss much about these differences; you can check them, if you wish. All I’ll do is focus on today as a day when the English football fixture list is full, and it would be so even if this were not a Saturday, because the tradition is to start the Christmas/New Year period with a lot of games. In past years, Boxing Day results often reflected some bizarre outcomes that suggested too much enjoyment on Christmas Days.

Teams are now more focused on nutrition and restraint during holidays, and many players will be curbing the eating and drinking.

So, I’m in front of the ‘gogglebox’ (less boxy these days, as the flat screen era rules). I should have some mince pies to had to go with my hot drink, but I’ll accept some black Jamaican Christmas cake/pudding 🙂

I’ve donned my ‘ugly’ Christmas sweater, at least for a while. It’s cool enough here in the tropics–23C/73F.

I should also have Christmas dinner left overs to keep me happy for the day. Normally, that would be slices of ham and turkey. But, I have none from the dinner I had with friends, yesterday, but I know I have other tasty leftovers in the fridge.

So, while most Americans will not have this day as a holiday, and do not celebrate Christmas as a season, I’ll get into the swing of another day of lolling around.

Many are already headed to another traditional activity–Christmas sales. That, too, is far from my interests, and in #COVID19Life times, I’ll be interested in how that goes.

So, feet up. Head back. Stomach in…if possible. Enjoy the day!

#COVID19Chronicles-261: December 25, 2020-Brexit trade deal brokered

PM Boris Johnson was ecstatic that a trade deal had been reached by the UK with the EU, on December 24, not quite at the 11th hour, but a bit close for comfort, as the transition period was due to end on December 31, 2020. His EU counterpart, Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, was more tempered in her reactions:

Negotiations are over for the moment, but there’s much more to do:

The UK Parliament has to vote on the deal; its details have not yet been published.

This deal leaves the UK economically worse off than if it stayed in the EU, but is better off than leaving the EU without a deal.

But, the UK will lose a lot of EU benefits, as the comparative table shows:

What’s sure is that Britons will have a different experience with their EU neighbours in 2021 than in 2020. Many people forgot or did not realise that things were not so different during 2020 because of the transition rules.

The UK is less than united about the deal and Scotland has already begun airing its grievances, especially over fishing issues, where it stands to lose much more than will be gained.

#COVID19Chronicles-260: December 24, 2020: NIDS public consultation timeline

A select committee headed by Justice Minister, Delroy Chuck, has been formed to consider the draft NIDS bill. It will hold its first meeting on January 5, 2021.

Its members are listed below:

Public consultation is being sought and comments may be made by January 29, 2021 (my birthday 🙂 )

#COVID19Chronicles-259: December 23, 2020-Festivus

Today is Festivus—the holiday for ‘the rest of us’, with its focus on the airing of grievances and disappointments 🙂 :

In an era when those who knew only about major religious holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah, and more recently socially-focused traditions like Kwanza, we now have something else to ‘celebrate’.

Honestly, I’d never heard of Festivus before this week, and that’s probably because I was never a regular watcher of ‘Seinfeld’, where it originated, according to Time:

‘The holiday drew national attention thanks to Seinfeld. In a 1997 episode titled “The Strike”, which aired during the show’s ninth season, George Costanza’s father, Frank (Jerry Stiller), decided he was staging a one-man war on Christmas. In lieu of celebrating a crassly commercialized holiday, Frank was going to start his own tradition—Festivus. “Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son,” explained Frank in the show. “I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.” With that, Festivus was born.’

Watch for yourself:

The Internet has given the holiday life it might never have had in another time, but, in this year of disappointment and many grievances, its time might just have truly come 🙂

#COVID19Chronicles-258: December 22, 2020-New strains on #COVID19Life

Outside of Europe, countries are still pondering how to react to the new strain of COVID identified in the UK (and Italy). The WHO Europe is to meet to discuss responses:

The UK’s situation is chaotic as the complications for movement posed by the new COVID strain mix with emerging confusion and complications as it moves toward its Brexit deadlines, with no deal yet in place.

Jamaica’s decision to ban flights from the UK turned out to be tighter as the two flight due in today were both cancelled. The 302 passengers who arrived yesterday are in state quarantine facilities for 48 hours:

Indications that the current vaccines would also deal with the new strain have been declared by BioNTech and Pfizer:

Other English-speaking Caribbean countries have, so far, not followed Jamaica’s and Grenada’s lead.

Several major countries, including the USA, are playing wait and see.

Though, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) noted that the new strain might well have already been circulating, undetected, in the USA: