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2021 Walks on a Blueprint

For some, 2020 spent isolating and could have been the best one, to say. For others, the worst. Many shut shops while few others flourished. Whatever it was, 2020 has given 2021 and many more years to come a cue and a blueprint for future.

2020, indeed was an unusual year. 2021 takes forward bunch of experiences from the year gone by which will change the world permanently for all with many things to learn for life.

Some became spiritual, others lonely or lonelier while others could not stand the noisy presence of four or more members of the house stuck together in a tiny space and became irritable.

Yet others, were dying alone – either due to loneliness or due to COVID, their loved ones socially distanced outside the four walls of their old age homes; not being allowed to come and see them during their last few minutes before dying. Then there are others who overdosed alone – socially distanced, in their corners of the streets.

The last one-year has changed a life called normal, to a new normal. And it is not just for a few of us but for most of us life has come a full circle. For those, with understanding partners, found this time a welcome opportunity for amicable personal relations.

Lockdown and domestic violence

On the other hand, those in unhappy relationships were further harassed and put in a debilitating emotional distress. In the US, divorce rates went up by 23%; in India, it doubled. Says Carla Smith, who lost her steady job as an accountant in the hospitality industry in Whistler, “It was a nightmare to be stuck with my husband in that one bedroom apartment, 24 hours a day. Like others, we were not baking or cooking together or having a nice time. Both of us, argued all day. It felt so mundane.  I felt like being stuck in a time loop. There was no end in sight. When COVID happened, I lost all my patience with him. Now, I have not only to look for a job but also a place to live.”

Even the Pope could not help but talk about increase in domestic violence in his Christmas message to the world. At times these women “are at risk of being subjected to violence due to a coexistence for which they carry too great a burden,” he said, urging people to pray “that the Lord will give them strength and that our communities can support them together with their families.”

Increased Alcoholism and Drug Consumption During Corona Lockdown

According to latest reports, there was an increase of 38% in opioid related deaths in Ontario alone, in the first 15 weeks of the pandemic, compared to 15 weeks prior and it is expected there will be close to 2500 opioid related deaths by the time 2021 rolls on. Similar trends are reported in the US and other parts of Canada due to presence of unregulated street drug supply, barriers to access to harm reduction services and treatment along with physical distancing rules. UK reported an increase in consumption of alcohol by 21% and so did Canada and the US. In India, the line-ups outside liquor stores were longer than outside ration stores, when the lockdown was lifted. In a study conducted earlier this year, it was reported that nearly 32% of participants reported an increase in binge drinking during pandemic.

Work from home: Are we ready to take it forward beyond 2021?

As more and more companies realized efficiency of employees working from home better than from the office, precious resources like paying rent, electricity, phone or heating bills could be saved.

Not only employees are less stressed as the commute time saved, can either be diverted to more office work or towards the well being of the employee, benefitting the company directly.

In fact, most have reported to be working more number of hours at home than they would when in the office. “I would leave the office exactly at 5 pm every day to catch my train and then reach home, change and rush to the gym by 7 or 730. With gyms closed and no need to rush, I spend those extra hours doing office work at home. The less stress is the escape of morning and evening rush; rest it is work as usual,” opined Mathew Wilson, with an accounting diploma. Mathew also highlighted the time saved near the coffee machine or the washroom indulging in idle office gossip, helped in creating a positive energy at home.

Till the lockdown happened, not many professions could perceive that they could ever allow work from home. IT was one industry, which attracted youngsters due to flexibility of work locations and work hours. But with COVID lockdown, many companies realized the futility of asking employees to commute to office locations.

As work locations were asked by health officers to reduce workers even at essential services, innovation in technology resulted in ability of even judges and lawyers to argue and hear criminal cases, within the confines of their homes.

Said Joana (name changed), a provincial court clerk in Vancouver, “I can do more than 80% of my job from home now. It is just that public cannot talk to us face to face but we are all available on the phone and online, to do everything that we did sitting in the office. Though I miss the social interaction, I certainly don’t mind at all. I feel less stressed and no rush to reach home to start dinner. Now, I can cook or do housework, during my breaks and feel free to optimize my time as I wish. Thanks COVID for a wonderful opportunity.”

Other professions like journalism or news broadcasting, took to efficiently broadcasting news and debates from the living rooms of employees, saving company resources. Nikita Singh, working for a local news channel in Edmonton, saw her salary slashed to half. “It was very disappointing. But where could I get another job during a lockdown. So I just stuck on with them and eventually, they offered me the weekend news broadcast, which I can work from my living room. That was challenging at first, as I had to learn a lot of technology, and tying up the cables, lighting etc. But it worked eventually. Many of my colleagues were laid off and six months later, still haven’t found anything.”

Tackling environment issues: 2020 presents a blueprint

Environment is another area which has seen a drastic change for the better, which no Greta Thunberg or Kyoto Protocol or Vienna Convention could ever have done. Metropolitan cities like Milan saw its air quality improve drastically. Citing an example of Barcelona, an EU report reported 59% drop in Nitrogen Dioxide levels compared to the year before.

And so did Madrid, which dropped by 47%. No number of court orders or changes in environment laws could lower India’s pollution level as grinding the 1.3 billion people to a halt during lockdown did. Factories stopped emitting poison, public transport suspended and markets closed, gave the residents a respite from suffocating air. Suspended particles dropped by as much as up to 50% compared to previous years in most metropolitan cities of India and many residents, like my own mother, had forgotten about her asthma pump. When people got back to work as rules relaxed, so did she with her gasps for fresh air.

Entertainment has a new road map for 2021 and beyond

The biggest challenge was felt in the entertainment industry, which initially came to a total halt in March 2020, then changed its platform totally as lockdown started lifting slowly.

The industry had to look at other avenues for creativity and innovation. From big screening theatres, films found their audience on sofa screening, on beds and in places, never heard of before as the OTT platform became popular.

OTT or Over the top means providing entertainment content via a high-speed internet connection instead of the age-old cable or satellite provider. Gone are the days when you had channels bundled for you and despite you not watching some channels, you still had to pay for them. Now you pay for what you watch. Of course, nothing comes for free, except your freedom.

Biggest lesson of 2020

No one can predict what we have in store and….. past is the best example for future.

Dr Neelam Batra Verma Author 1971: A War Story

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