A pandemic atlas: How COVID-19 took over the world in 2020


Washington, December 16

Almost no place has been spared — and no one.

The virus that first emerged a year ago in Wuhan, China, swept across the world in 2020, leaving havoc in its wake. More than any event in memory, the pandemic has been a global event. On every continent, households have felt its devastation — joblessness and lockdowns, infirmity and death. And an abiding, relentless fear.

But each nation has its own story of how it coped.

The story of COVID-19 in Brazil is the story of a president who insists the pandemic is no big deal. Jair Bolsonaro condemned COVID-19 quarantine, saying shutdowns would wreck the economy and punish the poor. He scoffed at the “little flu,” then trumpeted the fatalistic claim nothing could stop 70 per cent of Brazilians from falling ill. And he refused to take responsibility when many did.

In many ways, normal life has resumed in China, the country where COVID-19 first appeared one year ago. China’s ruling Communist Party has retracted some of the most sweeping anti-disease controls ever imposed. The challenge is jobs: The economy is growing again, but the recovery is uneven.

Germans enjoyed a largely relaxed summer with many restrictions lifted, the dividend of a rapid response to the initial coronavirus outbreak and a reliance on early and widespread testing that won wide praise.

It brought the number of daily COVID-19 cases down from a peak of more than 6,000 in late March to the few hundreds by the warmer months. But as people grew lax in following the rules the numbers began to climb to nearly quadruple the March daily record, and the country now finds itself in a new lockdown as it tries to bring the pandemic back under control.

A nation of 1.3 billion people, India is likely to emerge as the country with the world’s highest coronavirus tally. It responded to the pandemic early on with an abrupt nationwide lockdown, but the number of cases spiked as restrictions eased and its creaky public health system struggled to keep up.

Questions have been raised about its unusually low death rate. India’s virus worries are also multiplied by its struggling economy that recorded its worst performance in at least two decades. It will be the worst-affected among the world’s major economies even after the pandemic wanes.

At the start, Iranian officials downplayed COVID-19 — denying the mounting toll of infections, refusing to close mosques, making half-hearted gestures at locking down businesses. That was then. This is now: Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has worn disposable gloves while planting a tree for state media, and prayed in an empty mosque to mark the holy Shiite commemoration of Ashoura.

When Israel went into its second nationwide coronavirus lockdown in September, most of the country quickly complied with the closure. But in some ultra-Orthodox areas, synagogues were packed, mourners thronged funerals and COVID-19 cases continued to soar.

In late February, Italy became the epicenter of COVID-19 in Europe and a cautionary tale of what happens when a health care system in even one of the wealthiest parts of the world collapses under the weight of pandemic sick and dead. When the second wave hit in September, even the lessons learned from the first weren’t enough to spare Italy’s disproportionately old population from devastation.

Japan has been spared the dangerous surges seen in the US and Europe, and hopes to host the Olympics next summer. Experts say the use of masks and border control have been key to keeping the Japanese caseload low.

They say youth is a protective factor against COVID-19. In Kenya, youth have suffered anyway. From children forced into hard labor and prostitution, to schools closed until 2021, from a child shot dead by police enforcing curfew, to babies born in desperate conditions, the effects of the pandemic in Kenya have fallen hard on the young.

For months Peru held the grim title of first worldwide in per capita COVID-19 deaths. It didn’t have to be that way.

Decades of under-investment in public health, poor decisions at the onset of the pandemic, coupled with severe inequality and shortages of life-saving goods like medicinal oxygen combined to create one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks.

South Africa had a secret weapon: Health professionals who are veterans of the country’s long-standing battles against HIV/AIDS and drug-resistant TB. The country’s leaders heeded their advice on how to deal with the coronavirus, and though there have been ups and downs, the worst-case scenarios have not yet come to pass.

In 2020, Spainiards have normalised things unimaginable only 12 months before. But 2020 will also go down as the year in which an unknown virus shook the foundations of the social contract and threw into question a system that failed to prevent so many deaths.

Americans have been inundated by wave after wave of grim numbers — COVID-19 deaths in the hundred thousands, infections in the millions. While those figures testify to a tragedy of historic proportions, they don’t fully capture the multitude of ways, large and small, that the virus has upended and rejiggered everyday life.

In Mexico, the government did little, aside from asking its people to act responsibly. The result: more than 100,000 deaths, a number that is presumed to be an understatement.

In New Zealand, the government closed its borders and shut down nearly everything, preventing all but a couple dozen deaths. — AP



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