A year of pandemic: covid-19 exposed the best and worst in the world

The world was preparing for the turn of the year; it was December 31, 2019 when, in a Chinese government office of the World Health Organization (WHO), the notice that a new form of pneumonia had appeared in the city of Wuhan, caused by a new strain of coronavirus, causing severe acute respiratory syndrome 2, or SARS-CoV-2. Covid-19 was beginning to take over the world.

It is believed (but to this day still not certain) that the virus that causes the disease has jumped the barrier between species via the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, which also traded live animals for consumption. The genetic code of the new coronavirus was quickly sequenced by Chinese scientists and made available to all laboratories in the world. Initially, the disease was not as severe as SARS, but more virulent.

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January was advancing and the world was on vacation. The disease was beginning to spread in China (mainly due to the New Year celebrations, on January 25), embarking for other countries in the respiratory system of tourists. While WHO was initially reluctant to declare the covid-19 outbreak a health emergency, it changed its mind on January 30 – in the first week of February, the number of deaths exceeded 800 (SARS killed 774 people worldwide between 2002 and 2003), reaching three thousand fatalities in March.

With protective equipment, doctors take an infected patient to a hospital in Seoul, South Korea, in March 2020.With protective equipment, doctors take an infected patient to a hospital in Seoul, South Korea, in March 2020.Source: Getty Images / Chung Sung-Jun / Reproduction

Case records of the disease began to occur outside of China; the first to emerge was in Thailand, on January 13th. Reports are held in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, USA, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, France (the first to appear in Europe), Nepal, Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, Germany, Finland, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Italy, Brazil, India, Philippines and the United Kingdom.

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The confirmation that the disease could be transmitted between human beings, released by the National Health Commission of China, was followed by the news that infected people, but still without symptoms of the disease (so-called asymptomatic), could transmit covid-19. The disease turned out to be ten times more deadly than the H1N1 flu.

While Italy decreed a lockdown to try to halt the wild spread of the disease and prevent the collapse of its already battered health and funeral systems, WHO declared that the planet was officially experiencing a pandemic, with all continents inhabited with recorded cases of covid. -19. The search for a vaccine began in laboratories around the world.

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Without border control or even screening at airports, the first infected foreigners arrived here to enjoy the summer and the carnival. Brazilians who flew to Europe on vacation also contributed to spread the new coronavirus across the country. As the political clash between the federal government and governors grew, Brazil entered the fight for the most valued and scarce input on the planet: respirators.

Bloco Bicho Maluco Beleza brought together about 60 thousand people in its parade at the São Paulo carnival of 2020.Bloco Bicho Maluco Beleza brought together about 60 thousand people in its parade at the São Paulo carnival of 2020.Source: Folha de S. Paulo / Edson Lopes Jr./Reproduction

Financial help

Countries began to go into debt to keep their inhabitants at home and prevent their economies from collapsing: in March, the US approved the largest fiscal stimulus package in its history, worth $ 2 trillion, followed by another, US $ 900 million at the end of December. The European Union, in turn, created a fund of 750 billion euros (about US $ 915 billion) to rescue the post-pandemic economy of the bloc’s countries.

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In April, the Brazilian government sent a R $ 200 billion package to Congress for analysis and approval to mitigate the effects caused by the pandemic, including an emergency R $ 600 monthly aid for workers affected by the restrictions.

Without a clear and centralized health policy, however, the country quickly came to occupy second place in the global picture of contamination and deaths from the disease, behind only the USA. Cities like Manaus have seen their health system collapse, while heads of federal, municipal and state executives either denied the pandemic or imposed strict isolation rules, such as closing trade and banning traffic (but not without protests from part of the population) .

Coveiros open new graves at the Vila Formosa Cemetery (São Paulo), in April.Coveiros open new graves at the Vila Formosa Cemetery (São Paulo), in April.Source: Reuters / Amanda Perobelli / Reproduction

The contamination and death curves grew. The consequences of the lack of a national plan to fight the disease were not long in coming: between March and May, the number of victims rose rapidly, reaching, on May 22, 1,169 dead.

Scientific front

With the virus already present worldwide, the scientific community was struggling to get as much information as possible about covid-19. Reports began to emerge of the devastating effect of the disease on the human body, affecting not only the lungs, but also the heart, kidneys, liver, blood vessels and brain.

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The search for an effective treatment ended up focusing on four drugs: remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir and interferon, in addition to a cocktail with interferon and lopinavir. The study Solidarity, from WHO, involved more than 11,300 adults admitted to 405 hospitals in 30 countries.

Of the four drugs, two were discarded in June: a UK survey of hydroxychloroquine and the combination of ritonavir and lopinavir revealed that none of them increased the survival of patients with covid-19.

In October, tests with antivirals remdesivir and interferon, drugs that represented great hope for a treatment against the disease, failed to increase the survival of patients infected with the new coronavirus, while new cases increased dramatically in the world. There is still no drug that directly fights the coronavirus.

Explosive rebellion

The month of October also saw cases explode in the United States, amid the turmoil of the presidential election campaign. Europe was beginning to see the first demonstrations against the use of masks and social isolation. In Brazil, the number of new cases has started to stabilize at around 300 deaths per day.

The second wave of the disease, however, began to sweep Europe after passing through Asia in July. In November, the United States began to feel the effects of the third wave, the most lethal so far. At the end of the year, governments were fighting against a portion of the population that refuses to stay at home, wear masks and maintain social distance, while in the UK a new, more contagious variant of the disease was discovered.

Nurse Amanda Ramalho is one of the health professionals in charge of combating covid-19; Pelotas (RS), where she works, is now under the red flag (high risk of contagion of the disease).Nurse Amanda Ramalho is one of the health professionals in charge of combating covid-19; Pelotas (RS), where she works, is now under the red flag (high risk of contagion of the disease).Source: Instagram / Amanda Ramalho / Reproduction

The effects of this rebellion were felt mainly by the nursing staff that faces a daily struggle against the disease. Brazil, among the 200 thousand deaths by covid-19 reached in January of this year, counted 500 nurses, technicians, nursing assistants and obstetricians who succumbed to the disease in a year of work in the fight against the new coronavirus.

Of these, 30 professionals died only in the first week of 2021, according to data from the Federal Nursing Council. Brazil contributes with a third of the global deaths of these professionals by covid-19.

Inequalities

The pandemic, in addition to turning the world upside down, exposed social inequalities that have worsened during the course of the disease in a way that has never been seen before. According to data released in December by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the covid-19 pandemic could lead one billion people to extreme poverty by 2030.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projections released in October in the report World Economic Outlook, the world economy is expected to shrink by 4.4%. “The recession is deep, and the recovery will be long, irregular and uncertain.” For 2021, the IMF predicts that global GDP will grow by 5.2% (below the 5.4% forecast in the middle of last year). The news is not good for Brazil: the organization projects a decrease of 5.8% in the GDP of 2021.

3.5 billion offline

The world has come to depend on the internet, but it was not available to half the planet. Estimates by the United Nations (UN) indicate that 46% of the world population is not yet connected to the networks. This means that, with confinement, almost half of the Earth’s inhabitants have lost access to information about the pandemic’s unfolding, remote work, telemedicine and online classes.

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“We have always said that there are about 3.5 billion people who are not connected, but we know that this number is higher now, because people who used to go online at their workplaces and other public spaces no longer have that access,” I told CNN Deputy Director of the Alliance for Accessible Internet (A4AI) Eleanor Sarpong.

According to her, “the covid-19 showed that there is a big gap, and in fact it came as a shock to some governments. When they asked their employees to work from home, many of them could not because they had no internet”.

On the floor of the house, in a favela in São José do Rio Preto (SP), a mother tries to teach her children without a computer or internet. According to the IBGE, 46 million people in Brazil do not have access to the networks.On the floor of the house, in a favela in São José do Rio Preto (SP), a mother tries to teach her children without a computer or internet. According to the IBGE, 46 million people in Brazil do not have access to the networks.Source: Diário da Região / Guilherme Baffi / Reproduction

The year 2020 leaves important lessons for governments and the scientific community on how a virus can have the potential to disrupt an entire planet, exposing social injustices to incompetent politicians.

“We expected something like this to happen. These diseases have been appearing more frequently in recent years as a result of human invasion into the wild and increased contact and consumption of wild animals by people,” said epidemiologist Andrew Cunningham of the Zoological Society of London , in May this year. “The covid-19 pandemic will not be the last one the world will go through.”

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