“Family, friends and colleagues; fear, fun and fitness. Hands, face masks and space; opportunities, challenges and changes.”
In the year 2020, these words carried a specific meaning and message, playing out in particular ways for men, women and children the world over.
The UK’s first national lockdown was announced on March 23, 2020, restricting people’s movement with a clear message from the government to “stay at home”, go out only for essentials such as food and medical needs and take up one exercise a day. “You should not be meeting with friends — if your friends ask you to meet, you should say No,” the UK Prime Minister had said.
Schools in the UK closed for all children, except those of key workers and children considered vulnerable. For my 16-year-old nephew, it was his last year at high school. He had prepared well for his exams and was looking forward to going to college, armed with good grades. However, two days before, students at his school were told that they will no longer be required to take exams.
“Disappointed as I was about this,” said my nephew, “it was the manner in which we were informed of our school shutting down, that my fellow students and I were most angry about. We were given less than five minutes notice of the shutdown, with no information on when the schools are likely to reopen. So, no signing off our friend’s shirts, no prom night and no time to say goodbye to our classmates. It was a goodbye without a goodbye.”
With offices shut for all but essential service employees, most of us resorted to working from home. A pleasant welcome in the midst of fear and long-time plea to the company had finally become reality. This meant we could now be at our desk within minutes of waking up and stuck into our tasks instead of being stuck in traffic or crammed trains.
Saving on the time otherwise taken to commute to work, we had extra time on our hands. With the growing uncertainty over when things would get back to normal, this was an opportunity to develop new skills, talent and generally improve our well-being. We made some welcoming adjustment. The kitchen that was earlier used to turn out quick meals due to shortage of time now behaved more like a special home restaurant, churning out exotic dishes and cocktails for the much-relaxed evenings.
Family living rooms took on the role of classrooms, offices and fitness centres. At 5.30pm, children, teenagers and adults (age ranging from 6 to 63), all laid down their yoga mats and logged on to a Zoom meeting room, ready for the family quarantine fitness class to start. With our own qualified family fitness instructor, we were taken through heart rate boosting cardio circuits, exploring a variety of push-ups, lunges and crunches, bringing it all home with coordinated abs, arm and core work in the plank position.
Traditions such as birthdays, Diwali and Christmas had to be done differently — a virtual celebration as digital technology came into its own. Family members, young and old, not normally computer/mobile-savvy, embraced the new technology with gusto. We created our e-family network. We set up video calls, played games and uploaded nostalgic photos of extended family members, ensuring communication was kept alive and fun at all times, albeit virtually.
Most of the time, we followed the set rules, playing our part to curtail the spread of the virus. We washed our hands frequently for 20 seconds, maintained our distance and carried our trusted face masks. Holidays were cancelled, or put-on hold indefinitely, as we placed our passports safely back in the drawers, not knowing when we will use them next.
With the onset of the second wave in September, the impact and uncertainty intensified. Safety of our children, their future and our financial security hung on how well and quickly the vaccine would be developed, schools re-opened and the recovery of the economy as we watched our pension pots dive. We worried about the many more days ahead without being able to see our family and friends. The adjustments challenged our resilience at every level.
If the year 2020 for people in the UK began with the feeling of helplessness and frustration over the looming Brexit deal to be signed off before December 31, 2020 — with all its implications on jobs, travel and cost of living — March 2020 was the start of fear in an unprecedented situation. It felt surreal. Concerns over Brexit soon seemed trivial as we stood in long queues for our daily essentials of food and cleaning products. As panic buying set in, supermarkets began to ration toilet rolls, pasta, hand soap and anti-bacterial wipes, as shoppers stripped the shelves in a frenzy. Social media was abuzz with memes and jokes about toilet paper — a temporary relief from the seriousness of the situation.
As the phrase “coronavirus pandemic” echoed across the globe, questions began to emerge as scientists world over began to analyse the virus, its origin and spread. What was it? Where did it come from? How best to kill it off? Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists were out in force. Some claimed that 5G mobile technology was the cause of the symptoms of Covid-19. Others claimed that a “single group of people who secretly control events and rule the world together.” There was also the claim that “dangerous elites are trying to kill off the elderly and to establish a new world order.” Such claims were without any evidence.
With or without these conspiracy theories, the reality is that this pandemic has hit us all hard and there are no immediate signs of it going away. The near year-long period of the lockdown became a test of our character and judgement of our strengths, relationships, actions and values. The fear of infection was a wake-up call for some to not take life for granted.
If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is of our mutual dependency and how adaptable and resilient we all are as individual members of our family, community and society, calling on our individual and collective strength to cope with this surreal and unprecedented global experience.
Yeah, 2020, no one likes you, but we made it through. Our wish is that 2021 brings us all new opportunities to pursue our personal and professional goals.