I’ve used the phrase annus horribilis before to describe godforsaken years. 2020 has taught me that years past were far more gentler, and that the use of that term was hyperbolic.
That’s because 2020 has literally been the year from hell. I have wracked my brain for a fitting English term to mount on the rear end of 2020. My conclusion is that 2020 is the Year of the Grim Reaper. In popular Western culture, the Grim Reaper is the personification of the macabre and of death. He – and that’s not an error – is a ghoulish figure shrouded in a black hood and armed with a scythe — a long pole with a curved blade fixed to the top.
In the “pagan” ritual of Halloween celebrated by children in the West, the Grim Reaper’s foreboding dress flutters menacingly in the wind as he unleashes terror and dread among humans. Imagine the decapitated victims in his wake.
There’s no doubt Covid-19 turned 2020 into a real graveyard. Not since 1918 when the world was attacked by a deadly influenza pandemic – erroneously dubbed the Spanish Flu – although it was first detected in the United States. That pestilence ravaged the globe from December 1917 to April 1920. It infected 500 million and may have killed as many as 100 million. So far, since December 2019, Covid has infected 76 million and killed at least 1.7 million in just 12 months.
The good news is that Covid vaccines have already been approved and vaccinations are under way, especially in the West. I always knew the wealthy countries of the West would find a vaccine quickly because the pandemic has killed so many white people.
If Covid had been localised in Africa, or the poorer Global South, you can be sure a vaccine would have taken years – if ever – to come to market. Be that as it may, I am truly grateful to scientists, especially in the United States, for such a remarkable invention in a record time. Let’s see if there will be “vaccine equity” or whether “vaccine nationalism” will gobble up most of the early dosage in the West.
It’s clear that the virus has wreaked havoc with human life and the economies of the advanced countries. For some reason, although data isn’t clear, it seems Africa hasn’t been hit as hard. If that’s true, then scientists haven’t worked hard to find out why.
The death tolls that we have seen in America and Europe would have collapsed many an African country. What’s essential now is for African governments to redouble their efforts to acquire the vaccines to protect the people.
We know the economic effects will severely be felt within the continent, even as the richer countries recover more quickly. We may have dodged the Grim Reaper’s machete, but economic contraction and privation may kill us.
I can’t recall another time in my life when a disease has taken so many people. I think Aids was clearly a monster. However, Aids didn’t kill you within a few days. Covid attacks you today and the next thing you know you are on your way for an unscheduled meeting with your maker. Most people die alone because of the strict Covid protocols meant to protect the living.
Funerals have become even sadder affairs. Visits to the hospital to see a Covid relative are either limited, or forbidden altogether. Covid has cheapened life and depersonalised death. You die alone. It’s the most tragic way to exit the earth – literally on a one-way ticket by your lonesome.
People of colour
It’s true that natural disasters and pestilences strike the poor harder than the rich. That’s been true of Covid as we’ve seen, especially in America where people of colour have died at a higher clip than whites. This doesn’t mean the virus has spared white people, or the wealthy. The virus in the aggregate has taken very large numbers of whites. Among them are some of the most famous and richest on the planet. In that sense, Covid is an equal opportunity Grim Reaper. Money hasn’t necessarily protected folks from Covid. In Kenya, we’ve it seen it fell the high and mighty. There’s been no time to rush wealthy Kenyans abroad for treatment when the virus has struck.
I don’t like to end the year – around the holidays – with a grim and sombre column. However, I would be disingenuous to my readers if I didn’t close out the year with the most important development of 2020. The most important thing in 2020 wasn’t to make personal progress. It was simply to stay alive and wait for the vaccine.
If we cross over into 2021 in good health and are able to receive the vaccine, we will have done ourselves and those who love us a huge favour. It’s no time to relax Covid protocols. Let’s continue to wear a mask, physically distance, and practise good hygiene. Happy Holidays!