#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.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)