GOODBYE 2020: WHAT A ROTTEN YEAR!

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Covid-19 vaccines should be freely available like salt or sugar, writes Rajendra Aneja

2020 has been one of the most gruesome years, that mankind has faced in the last century. It has been much worse than the World War II era. In the World War, people knew who the enemy was and where. 2020 has been the year of the Covid-19 virus, which was invisible and attacked at free will, anywhere and everywhere. People have died, lives have been disrupted, commercial organisations are shut, unemployment has soared, people are poor and hungry.

The year 2020 was rent asunder by Covid-19. It was also politically tumultuous. President Trump continued to be mercurial. He should have focussed on the pandemic, but he neglected his mandate. The trade wars with China continued. China and the USA never saw eye to eye. Accusations flowed between the USA and Russia about elections interferences. Within the USA, the Afro-Americans agitated about racial discrimination. And, through all this, Covid-19 kept claiming more infections and deaths. Sad. Ultimately, all this led to the victory of Mr. Joe Biden.

India and Pakistan continued sabre rattling. Myanmar continued to be mired in the Rohingya crisis. There were protests galore in Hong Kong and Thailand.

The reign of strongmen leaders, continued in Turkey, Philippines, etc. Democratic conventions were discarded. Many strong leaders governed, as if the countries they were elected to manage, were their private properties. Sadly, their electorates forgave them their trespasses. Elections in developing countries, should be monitored by independent auditors. Voting machines need autonomous reviews.

The year has underscored the importance of good national leaders. Strong leadership in New Zealand, Germany helped to contain Covid-19. Opinionated leadership in other countries, fanned Covid-19. Even the common-sensical wearing of a mask, became a controversial political issue. The management of the 140 million migratory workers in India, who walked 200 to 1,000 kilometres, from the cities to their villages, was barbaric. And, not a word of sympathy from the erring leaders.

Africa continued to agonize. Covid-19 led to unemployment and poverty. The hunger in the belly, made many Africans shed masks and social distancing norms. So, wholesale and retail markets were cramped with people trying to eke a living, at the cost of their lives.

The only silver lining in a politically rotten year, was the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Gulf countries like the UAE. Hopefully, this détente, will continue under President Biden too. Peace is very tough to win. Israel and the Palestinians should also smoke the peace pipe.

The pandemic forced each country to look hard in the mirror. Almost every country failed the health test. Many countries had been spending two to three percent of their budgets on health. So, as the pandemic raged, countries floundered for hospital and ICU beds, ventilators, medicines, doctors, nurses, etc. There were agonising pictures of patients lying on floors, dead bodies next to patients, mass burials. It was a horrendous reminder of the inability of most countries, to manage a medical emergency.

In 2020, the economies of all countries, except China, contracted. The world went into a deep recession. The World Bank predicts a contraction of global GDP in 2020 by about 5.2 percent. The economies of developed countries will contract by 7 percent and developing countries by 2.5 percent, their worst performances in the last 60 years.

Almost every industry, in every country, lost sales, profits and market capitalisation. Airlines and hotels, suffered the most. The year also saw the closure of many established retailers like J.C. Penney, Debenhams, J. Crew, etc. Protracted lockdowns, low sales, mounting overhead expenses, knocked these retailers cold.

Millions across countries lost their jobs in the cities. They trudged back to their villages, making a living from the family agricultural business. Food security was an issue in many villages. These informal sector workers, were assisted by some governments with direct cash transfers and free food grains. The middle-classes in the cities were left high and dry.

As the pandemic permeated, expatriates returned to home countries. Countries like Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, which depended on remittances, took another blow.

Online portals, like Amazon and Best Buy, prospered. Sales of formal clothing dropped, whilst casual apparel did well. Food delivery companies also thrived.

Companies engaged in the manufacture of foods and consumer products, did well in 2020. Everyone needs flour, noodles, toothpaste, antibiotics or analgesics. Consumers stocked foods, consumer products and medicines, petrified of long, unexpected lockdowns.

Factories closed due to weak consumer demand. Prices of commodities like oil fell sharply. Demand for metals, platinum, rubber, vehicles also tumbled, generating further unemployment.

As Covid-19 persisted, countries and companies found it difficult to service their debts. They had to keep borrowing, raising the dangers of defaults and bankruptcies.

Student suffered immensely in 2020. Schools and universities were shut. The year was an educational washout. Some institutions started online courses. However, students who could not afford a smart phone or a laptop, dropped out. How does a driver or a janitor spend USD 300 to 500 on a laptop for his children? Principally, students across the world, lost 2020.

One in eight Americans say that in November, they did not have enough food. 12 percent of Americans reported that they suffered food shortages during Christmas week, as per the USA Household Pulse Survey, reported by the BBC. When Americans sleep hungry due to unemployment and Covid-19, then the plight could be worse in Asia and Africa.

We have to lift the global economy out of the black hole it has fallen into. We need to recuperate public confidence. The revitalization of the economy in 2021, depends entirely on the success of the vaccines being administered. Every farmer or street-cleaner must have easy access to them. Moreover, just two or three vaccines are inadequate. We need 15 to 20 vaccines, to be available at arm’s length, within a kilometre of everyone’s home, shop, farm or office. Ideally, they should be free. The vaccines should be as easily available, as a packet of salt or sugar. Then, Covid-19 will be vanquished.

Aneja was the Managing Director of Unilever Tanzania. He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School and the author of books entitled, “Rural Marketing across Countries and “Business Express”. He is a Management Consultant.

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The revitalization of the economy in 2021, depends entirely on the success of the vaccines being administered. Every farmer or street-cleaner must have easy access to them