We are only halfway there
We are halfway through what has been a chaotic year that many people can hardly wait to see end. To even describe 2020 as chaotic might come across as an understatement to some, as it appears that the world has moved from one crisis to another. This week’s article will focus on some of the major developments to date in 2020.
The single biggest development in 2020 has been the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19 pandemic). On January 2, there were 41 confirmed cases of the virus in Wuhan, China. By the end of January, the virus had spread from China to about 26 other countries and territories, highlighting the ease with which diseases can transcend borders in this era of globalisation. At the end of June, there are over 10 million cases worldwide and just over half-million deaths. On the bright side, several countries that had entered strict lockdowns, such as Italy, Spain, France and a few others, have reopened.
Worryingly, new clusters of infections are emerging in a few countries where the virus seemed to have been contained, notably China and South Korea. In the United States (US), the axis of the virus has shifted from New York to Florida, Texas and Arizona. Meanwhile, in Brazil, the number of cases continue to rise sharply. Unfortunately, restrictions may have to return in several places where they were lifted, and existing restrictions may have to be prolonged – two scenarios which are far from ideal in a “covid-weary” world.
According to the World Bank, the pandemic was anticipated to sink most countries into recession in 2020 and in a development not seen since 1870, per capita income is expected to contract in the largest fraction of countries globally. Economic growth in advanced economies was projected to shrink 7 percent, while in emerging and developing economies, the rate of contraction was projected to be by 2.5 percent. The World Bank’s initial figures were predicated on the assumption that the pandemic would have receded by June and that the lifting of mitigation measures would have followed soon after. The progression of the virus to date suggests that much rougher waters are ahead for the global economy.
Another notable development during the first half of 2020 was the near coming to blows between the US and Iran after the Americans killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Iraq on January 2. Days later, the Iranians launched ballistic missiles at two American military bases in Iraq in retaliation for the strike on Soleimani.
Thankfully, good sense prevailed and both countries stepped back from the brink of what would have been open military confrontation. Of course, such an open confrontation would have thrown the world into a deep state of despair.
At the end of January, the United Kingdom (UK) finally completed its divorce from the European Union (EU), bringing an end to three years of intrigue. It is now left to be seen whether both sides can secure a deal to define their post-Brexit relationship before the transition period concludes at the end of December 2020. A no-deal scenario is particularly risky for the UK, as one would imagine that the twin impact of the covid-19 pandemic and a complete decoupling from the EU would be burdensome for the UK economy, especially in the short-term.
Furthermore, as the Covid-19 pandemic ground the world to a halt and tensions simmered between Russia and Saudi Arabia over reducing supply on the global oil market, oil prices collapsed and at one time, traded at negative US$40 per barrel. Of course, as global demand for oil had almost flatlined by then, this could have easily gone unnoticed.
Finally, as we approached the midway point of 2020, protests erupted in the US after police killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man. These protests have since turned global and have resulted in many countries having to confront the uncomfortable truths of individual and systemic racism. I hope that even as the news and hashtag cycles shift to other issues, that this important conversation about race and privilege would not simply go away, but that we will be unrelenting in our agitation for racial justice.