2020 was a very challenging year for the whole world. It was not being called the year from hell for nothing. The COVID-19 pandemic, economic turmoil, war and refugee situation, fundamentalism, cyber-attacks, natural disasters, fragmentation of international institutions, political division and tribalism and many things else marked the year 2020. Many of these adversities may appear in 2021. But new hopes are on the horizon with new opportunities and several old threats. As many experts assumed, this new year can be very crucial for the mankind. Hence, the whole world including Bangladesh need to take careful steps in 2021.
COVID-19 will continue spiking in different parts of the world especially the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union (EU), Russia, India etc. Many could further be reluctant in anticipation of receiving vaccines.There remain concerns including production and logistical support related to the virus too. According to a poll, 42 per cent of Americans won’t take vaccine, which could lower the chances of stopping the contagion as people with same mindset remains in every country. The virus will also continue to spread and mutate, potentially limiting vaccine effectiveness.
The COVID-19 pandemic impact on the economy will remain in 2021 also. Global debt from emergency COVID-19 spending, particularly in developing economies, is exploding. Total debt increased by $15 trillion in 2020 and was expected to reach 365 per cent of global GDP by the end of2020. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has had to disburse pandemic-driven financial aid to 81 countries already and developing economies need $7 trillion to repay debt by the end of 2021. Such financial misery could trigger yet another global financial crisis.
COVID-19 vaccine is not a dream anymore. Different companies from different countries have developed their vaccines to fight this pandemic. This is one of the fastest responses in the form of vaccine of a virus. Many life-threatening diseases are yet to receive a vaccine. But the pharmaceutical fraternity was very fast to develop COVID-19 vaccine despite the prompt mutations and diverse varieties of this virus. It is because; the world has never faced a pandemic like this one.
Coronavirus has spread throughout the world. It has made extreme impact on the economy and lives of people from every corner or region of the world. The way it halted our lives was never found in the history of the mankind. Hence, the whole world is eager to trace out a vaccine of this deadly virus so that lives can get back to normal. In less than one year, the vaccine to this COVID-19 virus is being used on human body, which is unimaginable. If this pandemic cannot be contained and controlled soon considering its ability to mutate promptly, then it will be very difficult to go back to the normal life while keeping the global economy undaunted.
The United Nations (UN) has cautioned that the world is on the edge of its worst food crisis in at least fifty years. The pandemic has muddled global food supply chains. With more people falling into extreme poverty as a result of the economic damage imposed by COVID-19, rising food prices could not come at a worse time. The UN forecasts that more people will die of COVID-related undernourishment and its related diseases than from the coronavirus.
The World Food Program believes that Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Burkina Faso may already be suffering famine conditions. Afghanistan, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Lebanon, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are not far away from it. Even in advanced economies, the poor are suffering from higher food prices at a time of high unemployment. At the same time, the World Bank predicts that by the end of 2021 up to 150 million additional people will fall into extreme poverty.
Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several political and communal risks that can increase our miseries. The ongoing wars and conflicts like in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kashmir (India and Pakistan) along with the increasing intensity of the confrontation between the US and Iran, North Korea’s aggression, the clash between the US and China over Taiwan, run for economic supremacy between China and the Western World etc will keep shaping up tensions in 2021.
Moreover, unsettled refuge situation all over the world especially millions of Rohingya refugees, Syrian refugees, African refugees are going to create huge burden on the host countries amid the possible global economic depression.
Additionally, increase of poverty and food crisis will create opportunity for the growth of fundamentalism or extremism. New threats of cyber attacks and increasing incidents of security breach especially on financial platform might come out as a new problem. Along with technological improvements, these factors will create new concern especially when we are most dependent on the online platforms.
The rapidity of vaccine development is the product of artificial intelligence, big data and accumulated research, all of which have allowed bioscience to move with unprecedented speed to combat new viruses. It will be difficult, but within our grasp, to create a global public good- a universal vaccine to prepare for the next pandemic.
This COVID-19 has taught us many things like; importance of nature, survival instinct, new mode of life, significance of relationships and new dimension of cooperation and business. It has also exposed the mean face of self-centrism unfortunately. But getting out of this pandemic will obviously remain the priority throughout 2021 as if we cannot, then thousands of new problems will keep surfacing.
We have put up a lot of hope on 2021. These hopes lie on the dream of a fully effective COVID-19 vaccine. The approved vaccines till now with all positive aspects lack enough trial. Moreover, the virus has changed forms several times at several places, which generated huge rumors, anticipations and confusions regarding the virus, which may take many new forms in the upcoming future. Hence, it will be important to contain the virus rather than fighting against it.
In reality, it will be hard to vaccinate all the people of the world as the rich or vaccine producing countries will restrict vaccine export initially. Like; recently, India decided to not allow the export of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for several months, which was a great hope of Bangladesh.
A person must maintain COVID-19 protocols like; social distancing, wearing masks, limiting unnecessary movements etc for at least one year after receiving vaccine as we really do not know if the vaccine is completely effective against the mutated virus and can never take the risk to spread it any further. Even after providing vaccine to all people of the world, this carefulness must be maintained for at least one year. Moreover, bringing cent per cent global population under the COVID-19 vaccination by the end of 2021 will remain a challenge, which can be achieved only if no vaccine politics surfaces.
Bangladesh, under the guidance of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has already taken commendable measures to bring vaccines for its people. But to keep our economy rolling, we must contain the spread of this pandemic, which seems to be impossible in Bangladesh due to lack of awareness among people. Hence, the government needs to take extreme measures in this aspect. Moreover, we need to adopt technological innovation and upgradation to get hold of new business opportunities during the period of this global crisis. Most importantly, if we can keep political, communal and social stability, we will be able to overcome the hardships.
May 2021 come out as everything we have dreamt of.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency
(MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla
and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Centre (DRC)