By: Uwem Mbot Umana
The year 2020 has been a very unusual year. It is a year that I will personally not forget in a hurry.
I had just returned to the United Kingdom after being away for 12 years with my family and we were trying to resettle back into the country.
I remember the 31st of December 2019 very well, we were all at church. We danced and sang into the new year. This was more or less like a tradition that we all observe.
All over the world, people try to make entering the new year as spectacular as possible. When I lived in the United Arab Emirate, it was always a very fascinating experience to watch the fireworks in some of the grandest places in history – Like the Burj Khalifa, Emirates Palace, Yas Gateway Park and Abu Dhabi Corniche.
Sometimes, I would go to Yas Gateway park and sit out there with nice people, food and guitar. We would tell stories, sing songs, pray and have real good fun.
The weather was always perfect considering the fact that we lived in a part of the world that had extreme heat during the summer months and the winter months was always a delight with much cooler weather condition.
Being back in England was something that we all looked forward to as a family. We had the privilege of entering real winter again and having the opportunity to see nature – green, woods, squirrels, foxes again.
It was nice to hear all the sounds of nature again. It was nice to have the opportunity to witness being with family and loved ones again and dancing into the new year 2020 with so much fun and excitement.
The preacher man had finished preaching his sermon and we were singing, dancing and rejoicing and of course the countdown began to the year 2020 and as soon as the Clock chimed midnight there was this serious jubilation and noises; ululations and celebrations because we had entered the new year successfully. But nobody knew what the year held in store.
Then, the unexpected happen and Coronavirus broke out in Wuhan. At this point in time, the major concern in Europe was for Italy to have a reprieve from the sudden Covid-19 infections.
People who went to Italy and Spain, when they returned from the holiday were required to isolate for some time before returning to work.
There were calls for the Prime Minister to do a lot more before things got worse. The virus was making an entry into the UK. It was already in Europe and of utmost concern in Italy. It was gradually creeping into corners around Europe and the rest of the world.
People were calling on the Prime Minister to shut the borders. In his usual characteristic way he thought that people were just being alarmists. Life continued as usual and before anybody could say Jack Robinson, the country was at the peril of the virus.
The stats started flooding in, the nation was at the brink of caving in. The death toll began to rise and there was no solution in sight. Different statements were given by different healthcare personnel. Prime Minister, Chief scientific officer, epidemiologists, you name them, were always on the news.
Before you knew it, March ending – record was broken. The country was shut down. United Kingdom had joined the bandwagon of other countries that had shut down. My own city of Milton Keynes turned into a ghost town.
Only essential travel was allowed. The essential travel included trips to supermarkets for food and grocery stores, hospitals and dental centers and the food delivery people, to the supermarkets.
There was confusion in the land. Panic had stuck. The death toll increased. Never in the history of my life had I seen or witnessed a thing like this – where a whole country shut down and we were only allowed to pop out for daily exercises only with our family for one hour.
Bicycle shops witnessed a surge in sales, online sales boomed. Purchases were being done online now. Jeff Bezos and his associates were made richer. March through July, everybody remained indoors and watched the news daily as we saw people die in droves.
Different kinds of conspiracy theories circulated the airwaves and it was just horrifying. Life got to a stage that if you happened to visit the hospital because of the virus infection, it was like a death sentence and people just shuddered at the thought of visiting the hospital.
Life was cruel, rude and mean. The death toll kept climbing. Before we knew it, the ice skating rink in Milton Keynes was converted to a temporary morgue.
Every Thursday evening 8:00PM we all had to stand outside our houses to clap for the NHS. Even heads of governments were not spared, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Monarchs, Royalties, Artists, popular musicians, footballers and all the known were not spared. The common man as always was the worst hit.
We had our national heroes – they were the front liners. New privileges were accrued to them like when they visited the grocery shop, they were given urgent attention. They had separate timings for their shopping just to enable them be able to dispense their duties without having to queue.
Grocery shopping became a nightmare. The long endless queues with two meters social distancing were introduced in shops. While in the shops you had to be at two arms length apart from another shopper.
The craze for extra precaution sets in. Sanitizing your hands, legs, hair, clothes was part of a daily routine. You never knew where you could contract the virus from, so better safe than sorry. The national helpline was inaugurated. 111 was that number. It was like a magical number to call. Surgeries did not want to accept patients, everything was done online including consultations except it was absolutely necessary. Life was taking a new dimension before our very eyes.
In the early days people panic bought stuffs, toilet papers were out of stock in most of the shops. Pasta, baked beans and eggs did not stay in the shops. As soon as delivery arrived these items disappeared as quick as they were stacked.
The supermakets had to come up with strategies on how to ensure that everybody had a bit of everything. Shopping restrictions were put into place. You couldn’t buy more than 12 eggs at one go, you couldn’t buy more than two packets of pasta at one go, all in a bid to ration food. It reminded us of all the stories of rationing we read about during war times.
Thank God we survived those times. I was personally struck with Covid-19, battled it out and God saved me. I remember standing in my room where I was in isolation and looking out through the window and seeing life just empty and absolutely empty.
I wondered what all the fuss about life was for afterwards, if people who had nice cars and posh clothes and stuff could only polish them and use these items for decorative purposes.
Then, the first lockdown was eased, people began to pop out a bit more, people could do some bit of interaction, families could see a bit more and course a bit of normalcy began to return to the shops.
Items began to be purchased as it were before the days of the lockdown. It was an absolute delight to see some bit of normalcy return to the society.
Some measures had to be put into place now and we knew that these measures had come to stay. Every shop had their own sanitation station. As soon as you arrived the store – you went straight to the sanitation center to sanitize your hands, sanitize your feet, sanitize the trolley before heading in to do your shopping. Who was paying for all these? Of course, the shopper.
The government provided support for smaller and medium scale businesses, furlough scheme was introduced, bounce back loans was offered to businesses to help them survive the period of the pandemic. It took literally 48 hours for the money to hit your account. The Central Bank of England printed more notes.
Children had missed learning because schools were shut down. Remote learning was the order of the day. Offices were shut down and then people realized that all the unnecessary expenses on buildings should be cut off budget.
Working from home became the new norm research showed that workers were more productive working from home. families bonded more and did a lot of activities together and pregnancies surged during this period as well.
In the education system, the six students missed out on their transition experience , EU 10 students missed out on their work experience, and the seven students missed out on gaining experience on their first year in the secondary school, so they did not undergo that maturation process. No wonder when you met year 8 students, they still acted as if they were in year 7.
Then, borders were opened schools returned and the numbers began to spike again. the critics warned the government. More testing was becoming available and managing these spikes in schools was becoming very difficult having to track and trace students and staff members who have been in touch with each other was almost a nightmare. seasons of isolations upon isolations were abuzz in schools.
This had a huge impact on the budget because every school had to have almost in housecleaners now. Windows have to be kept open during winter time to alIow for cross ventilation and in freezing temperatures children had to learn.
Finances were affected seriously. People lost jobs. The hospitality industry was affected the most. Airline industries were affected. Companies had to go into administration while some organizations had to call out for government bailout. The story was grim and sad.
As the year makes a final bend and turn into the new year, what does 2021 hold in store ?
Apart from England losing well over 60,000 people, countless job losses, job cuts, emotional unwellness of citizens, suicide rates on the increase, psychological torture of individuals who have lost loved ones and colleagues and the sheer resilience of the country in pushing forward, what does 2021 hold in store?
If there is anything that 2020 has taught us, we do not know what is waiting for us down the corner in life .