A Completely Different Planet: COVID-19 One Year On

"Looks like we are going back to a completely different planet." These were the words of astronaut Jessica Meir as she prepared to leave the International Space Station after seven months in April 2020. The World Health Organization had declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic on 11 March 2020 not long before her descent back to Earth. That same week on Friday 13 March 2020, as Swiss borders closed, we were locking up our offices, handing out the few laptops available, moving to our homes and to rapidly installed online workspaces ahead of the full lockdown the following week.

We had been watching the news since mid-January through February as cases started to be reported from China and East Asia, then North America, Oceania and Europe in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, spreading to North Africa, the Middle East and South America. We grew increasingly uneasy as the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths climbed and the virus came closer. The first cases identified in most countries were travellers bringing the virus with them with cases confirmed in 121 countries by 13 March 2020.

The situation was at that time, and remains to a large extent, dramatic. One year on almost every country, institution and individual has been touched; nearly all of us know personally people, among our friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, who have died as a result of being infected and many more who have had it and are living with the lingering effects. We are marked and changed, as the story of Elizabeth Elias Silayo attests.

We are still largely working from home though much more aware now of how to stay safe. The infection rates and deaths remain on the front pages; so much (digital) ink and airtime, so many lives and livelihoods have been spilled and filled and lost in the last 12 months as a result of COVID-19 and more recently mutations of the virus.

A lot has happened in one year, massive efforts have been made and untold quantities of learning and data have been shared and put to use for the common good to develop effective protocols and vaccines at breakneck speed. Enormous advances have been and are being made in health care and medicine, in supporting individuals and businesses that are struggling; this solidarity is a source of pride in our common humanity.

Notwithstanding, the pandemic has brought existing inequalities and the ‘me-first' tendencies into sharp relief. The most recent examples of flagrant self-interest relate to the inequitable manufacture and distribution of life-saving vaccines with countries calling each other out over not doing their fair share. There are vaccines for sale to those who can pay regardless of their need or priority from a medical perspective with government officials resigning after being caught. Ethical issues around the development and deployment of track and trace apps and concerns about the use of personal data abound and the problematic of so-called health passports is flagged up in one of our blogs this month.

We have been, most of us for most of the time, so patient, so good, so forbearing, living with the restrictions and the hardships because we know that each life is so precious, unique and irreplaceable, that even one life saved is worth the price, because a life is priceless.

A year ago our President Christoph Stückelberger issued an open letter to our network participants published as a blog Let's stay together – at a distance. His ten concerns remain valid and true one year on and the invitation stands to share your values, experiences, thoughts, fears and hopes.

As our Executive Director Obiora Ike has said often during the last year, "The world will never be the same again". We are indeed on a completely different planet now; it is our planet though shared with all life on it. We have the responsibility to take care of it and of each other.

Lucy Howe López 
Deputy Executive Director 


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