The Year In Pictures
(Bloomberg) -- Some years in history are etched into the collective psyche of a nation or continent. Few resonate globally, irrespective of location, politics or economic circumstance.
From the loss of lives—more than 1.6 million and counting—to the loss of livelihoods, most of us will look back on 2020 through the prism of a pandemic whose devastation is still unfolding.
Most people had never heard the words “coronavirus” and “Covid-19” at the start of the year. Now they’re part of the daily vernacular of everyone from the youngest schoolchild to the most vulnerable pensioner.
The pandemic has upended how and where we work, travel, learn, worship and socialize. It’s fostered community spirit, but it’s also engendered resentment, blame and conspiracy theories as it strained health systems and closed national borders.
In the U.S., this was also a year when existing fault lines were further exposed, most notably those of race and inequality addressed by the Black Lives Matter movement. Images of empty streets, highways and airports were at times displaced by scenes of protest. The mask of unity in a world confronted by deadly infection slipped off, and tensions surfaced again and again.
The Front Line
The onslaught of the pandemic shined a spotlight on the people we rely on most, even if we never realized it. Doctors in overwhelmed emergency rooms tried to fathom the new disease, while cleaners in protective gear endeavored to halt its spread. Some of the most enduring images of the year captured the sheer urgency of the crisis and the often harrowing cost to life.
The year 2020 was always going to be a seismic one for politics, culminating in the U.S. verdict on President Donald Trump’s presidency. The virus added a layer of complexity and drama, with some leaders more willing than others to make the economic sacrifices to tackle it. President Vladimir Putin tightened his grip on Russia, and President Xi Jinping cemented China’s role in the global balance of power. Brexit Britain, meanwhile, strode toward a new era with challenges even the doomsayers couldn’t have predicted.
As the death toll mounted and governments urged people to remain in their homes, the financial consequences of Covid-19 became clear. Companies shuttered factories, travel was halted and jobs suddenly vanished. For many businesses—airlines, restaurants and retailers—it’s been a battle to survive. For others—delivery services and suppliers of plexiglass or hand sanitizer—it’s been a battle to meet demand.
Economies may be more globally entwined than ever, but this year the people behind those economies were never more disconnected, at least physically. Indeed, the phrase “social distancing” may forever be associated with 2020. Offices were abandoned for kitchen tables. Daily interaction was reduced to a parcel delivery or a Zoom call. And spare a thought for the most vulnerable to Covid-19, the disabled and the elderly, who have been isolated at home or confined to care facilities, with relatives kept away.
Humans have always shown their adaptability in the face of sudden adversity, and the speed of change in our daily lives was rapid in 2020. For most, how we eat out, worship and exercise looks very different now than it did at the beginning of the year. Just as schoolchildren and parents came to grips with remote learning, sports fans got used to watching their teams play in empty stadiums. And while the world suddenly faced an unseen danger, it has never been cleaner.
As ever, there was resistance to change. Yet there were more demands for it. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated political, economic and social inequality across the globe. If you were in Beirut or Hong Kong, the troubles of last year spilled over into this one. In the U.S., the decades-long struggle against police violence targeting minorities burst onto the streets, and the repercussions are still playing out.
Political and business leaders have talked all year about when we will return to normal. As vaccines start to roll off the production line, there’s hope it may be soon. But our next “normal” won’t necessarily be the old one. The pandemic hastened advances in online retail, industrial automation and self-service travel that were already under way. Banks don’t expect a rush back to cash and branches. And Covid-19 testing won’t immediately disappear with inoculation.