2020: The lost year, in images

By , in Editorial Your Thoughts on .

To even attempt at personifying a year is conceit-full but this year has been exceptionally exhilarating. The phrase may you live in interesting times just about sums up 2020. A plethora of occurrences took place throughout the year, of which one singlehandedly upended the world and society as we knew. 

2020 has been so jammed with the news—much of it with urgent, imminent, and life-altering implications—that it is questionable how would one describe the year with over a million lives lost to a pandemic, stock market crashes, apocalyptic fires as well as technological advancements and the rollout of a speedy vaccination.

These were indeed then, interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they were also more open to the creativity of us as a collective than any other time in history.

Whilst NewMalaysiaTimes cannot cover every aspect of every item that occurred this year, this is looking back at the top 50 occurrences that caught our attention and spurred our imagination. Here’s a recap of the year we seem to have lost.

January 1 – Bushfires, with unprecedented timing and intensity raged across Australia, burning 18.6M hectares and killing over 1 billion animals.

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January 3 – A US drone strike killed Iranian Army General, Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. War was breathing over our shoulders as Iran vows retaliation, ultimately firing missiles at Iraqi bases that house American troops.

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January 8 – A passenger flight from Tehran to Kyiv operated by Ukraine International Airlines was shot down by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp, killing all 176 passengers and crew members on board.

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January 10 – The word Coronavirus spread as fast as the actual virus. China announced 59 cases of a new coronavirus. Both the WHO and the Chinese authorities say it “does not transmit readily between people”.

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January 12 – Taal Volcano in Luzon erupts, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people

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January 16 – The impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the 45th and incumbent President of the United States, began in the U.S. Senate.

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January 31 – The United Kingdom and Gibraltar formally withdrew from the European Union, beginning an 11-month transition period with trade negotiations ongoing. 

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February 10 – Bong Joon Ho’s film Parasite took home the most awards at the Oscars, landing Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. It marked the first time a non-English-language movie won Best Picture.

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February 21Langkah Sheraton starts off Malaysia’s political crisis, leading to the ousting of the 22-month-old Pakatan Harapan coalition.

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February 24 – Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed resigns as the 7th Prime Minister, throwing the country into political uncertainty.

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Although it’s hard to ascertain anything as definite in politics, the resignation of Tun Mahathir suggests there was a farrago of misinformation, non-information, half speculation, and outright guessing, in typical Mahathir fashion.

March 1 – Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is sworn in as the 8th Prime Minister

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March 8 – Russia and Saudi Arabia start an oil price war, triggered by the Saudis in response to Russia’s refusal to reduce oil production to keep prices for oil at a moderate level.

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March 9 – Oil prices crash by 30 percent within minutes — the biggest drop since the Gulf war in 1991.

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March 11 – Concerned by the level of spread and severity, and alarming levels of inaction, WHO assessed that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

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March 11 – Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault and was sentenced to 23 years at the Wende Correctional Facility in New York.

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March was only a pinprick of what was to come for the rest of the year. We were amid a global pandemic and the world goes into lockdown to flatten the curve.  One major unintended but positive consequence of these shutdowns; air pollution, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) emissions steeply dropped alongside the restrictions on movement.

March 12 – The S&P 500 suffers the worst day since the 1987 Black Monday market crash. Adding to the storm, US President Donald Trump announces a ban on flights from Europe.

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March 18 – MCO put into effect, confining the people to their home and urging them to go out only when necessary in an attempt to flatten the infection curve. It crippled Malaysia’s economy, costing as much as RM2.4 billion a day.

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April 2 – Cases of the coronavirus soared and hit a million worldwide, killing at least 51,484 people.

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April 10 – Indonesia’s Anak Krakatau volcano, between Java and Sumatra islands, erupts, spewing ash columns up to 500 meters above the craters.

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April 15 – Reports of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s worsening health started floating after he did not attend the birth anniversary of his grandfather Kim Il-sung. He reemerged 20 days later in photos released by state media at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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April 20 – Bilateral relations between Canberra and Beijing sours after Australia supported a growing call for an international inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Tit-for-tat diplomatic reprisals have since followed.

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April 20 – The benchmark US price of oil plunges below zero for the first time. WTI tumbles to minus $40 in a record-breaking drop.

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April 27 – The Pentagon releases three declassified videos of alien UFO. It shows US navy pilots encountering mysterious floating objects in the sky. It was around the same time when the President of the United States told everyone to drink bleach.

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May 16 – Cyclone Amphan makes landfall in eastern India and Bangladesh, killing over 100 people and forcing the evacuation of more than 4 million. It causes over US$13 billion in damage, making it the costliest cyclone ever recorded in the North Indian Ocean

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May 20 – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announces the termination of all agreements, with Israel and the United States in response to Israel’s plans to annex the Jordan Valley.

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May 25 – American cities descend into social chaos and unrest with the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a police officer. 

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The 2020 United States racial unrest is an ongoing wave of civil unrest, comprising protests and riots against systemic racism towards black people in the United States, notably police violence. All hell broke loose and rightfully so. Many parts of the world lit up in anger, with many taking to the streets to protest against the treatment of black citizens.

May 30 – America’s first manned space launch from U.S. soil blasts off for the International Space Station in SpaceX Falcon 9  rocket, carrying two NASA astronauts.

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June 4 – Russian President Vladimir Putin declares a State of Emergency after 20,000 tons of oil leaked into the Ambarnaya River near the Siberian city of Norilsk within the Arctic Circle.

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June 15 – China and India stood on the brink of a was over their disputed border. After more than four decades of relative tranquillity, Chinese and Indian troops drew blood in the Galwan Valley, raising alarms about a potential war between the Asian juggernauts.

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June 30 – China imposed new, sweeping national security law in Hong Kong, and begun an aggressive crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous city, which has been roiled with pro-democracy protests since 2019.

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July 1 – Tesla became the most valuable automaker in the world—surpassing the likes of Toyota, Volkswagen, and Honda.

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July 12 – Armed conflict broke out on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. In November, both sides agreed to sign a Russian-brokered peace deal.

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July 18 – In Thailand, large youth-led demonstrations against the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has since included unprecedented demands for reform of the Thai monarchy.

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July 28 – Najib Razak was sentenced to 12 years of jail and fined RM210 million for abuse of power involving RM42 million funds misappropriated from SRC International Sdn. Bhd.

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2020 was the most active year on record for wildfires yet, with California and Oregon being particularly hard-hit. While some wildfires are caused by occurrences like lightning strikes, an overwhelming majority (85-90%) happen because of humans such as discarded cigarettes and campfire debris.

August 14 – An explosion in Beirut. 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored in a warehouse at Beirut’s port without proper safety measures for six years. It caused at least 204 deaths, 6,500 injuries, billions of dollars worth of property damage, and left an estimated 300,000 people homeless. It is considered one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history.

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August 25 –  Africa was declared free from wild type polio by the independent Africa Regional Certification Commission after a decade’s long campaign to stamp out the virus, which once paralyzed some 75,000 children in Africa annually.

Carbon emissions fell by the largest amount ever recorded; a deadly pandemic is hardly the best way to cut humanity’s dangerous climate change-causing output of CO2; however, emissions fell by a record seven percent in 2020 but it is very likely to rebound in 2021 if we don’t take further action.

September 15 – India banned exports of onions to preserve its domestic supplies after flooding in several states worsened shortages, leading to a massive spike in Malaysia’s onion prices.

September 17 –  The Indian farmer’s protest is an ongoing protest against the three farm acts which were passed by the Parliament of India. In what may be the single largest protest in human history, with tractors and tents filled with food and supplies, an army of hundreds of thousands of farmers, have camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi. Nearly 60% of India’s economy, which is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, depends on agriculture.

September 18 – Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the US Supreme Court Justice and unrelenting trailblazer for gender equality died at the age of 87. She was the second-ever woman appointed to the Supreme court.

September 22 – President Xi Jinping’s announced that China would aim to start reducing its carbon pollution by 2030—and achieve net-zero by 2060. His promise at the UN General Assembly meeting was a total surprise.

September 23 – 380 whales die in the worst mass stranding in Australia’s history, when more than 450 long-finned pilot whales became stranded in the harbor in Tasmania.

September 23 – Anwar Ibrahim announced that he had a “strong, formidable and convincing” majority to take over the government in a press conference, days before the Sabah by-election. He failed to prove his claims to the King.

October 25 – PM Muhyiddin’s requests for a nationwide emergency was rejected by the King. However, the King consented to a localized emergency in Batu Sapi and Bugaya in Sabah, and Gerik, Perak, allowing by-elections in the areas to be canceled.

November 3 – Lashana Lynch will play the first Black female 007 in the James Bond movie “No Time to Die.

November 4– Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive in the restive Tigray region in the country’s north. Amid reports of ethnically and religiously motivated violence, the UN’s Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect issued warnings about the risk of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

November 7 – Joe Biden won the majority of electoral votes and defeated incumbent Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States, ending one of the most contentious elections in recent memory.

Joe Biden winning the US presidential election led to Donald Trump, the Republican incumbent, becoming only the sixth one-term US president

November 7 – Kamala Harris became the first female, first Black, first South Asian US Vice President-Elect.

December 2 – 14 nations that own 40 percent of the world’s coastline banded together to create the world’s biggest ocean sustainability initiative, focused on restoring fish populations and reefs while eliminating plastic. They are Norway, Australia, Palau, Portugal, Namibia, Mexico, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Japan, Jamaica, Chile, and Canada.

December 10 – The Israel–Morocco normalization agreement materialises. This comes after the agreements Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan signed with Israel in September and October 2020. It lays out the precedent in setting aside generations of hostilities toward Israel.

December 14 – The first Americans were vaccinated against the coronavirus after the US Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot. The arrival of the vaccines, developed in less than a year, is touted as one of the greatest scientific accomplishments in history.

Our world of hyper-connectivity and the strains and aspirations that accompany it are not so novel after all. The ghosts of repetition reside alongside the prophets of progress. From the indiscriminate deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the tsunami in 2004 and Covid-19 of today, the anguish of all humanity continues in myriads of form. We should not lightly discard the well-grounded pessimism it has produced.

We learned a lot in 2020 – but what exactly did we learn? We slowed down. We learned what was important. We learned to appreciate the selfless dedication of nurses, doctors, and other front-liners who risked their lives to save ours — and the dedication of truck drivers, grocery stockers, farmworkers and so many more who risked their lives to keep the economy from collapsing.

But do any of them capture the microtexture of what our lives were like this year? Very little of our experience helped make sense of it all. We got bored and anxious; some overworked, or even unemployed. We tried to get to know ourselves better, which often left us more bewildered and less trusting. we are drained. There is no simple way to sum up this year.

Maybe we can say 2020 has been tumultuous, resilient, terrifying, wearisome, hopeful? maybe.

As the many twists and turns of the past 12 months have demonstrated, our complex, interconnected world is far from static. The next black swan is probably just around the corner.

Happy new year.

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