A Pandemic Year

Observations from a year following global headlines

Nearly a month before life as we knew it ground to a halt in much of the world, Stranger’s Guide published what would become our first of many stories about the pandemic: a look at the surgical mask. Back then, masks were an accessory more common in East Asia than the U.S., but of course over this year, they’ve become a global staple. While some coronavirus precautions, like the mask, have become international standards, many others, like school closures and contact tracing, have varied drastically by country.

As it became clear that there would be no easy end in sight, we began publishing weekly snapshots of COVID-19’s impact around the world. Rounding up local headlines from across the globe, we tracked the innovative solutions some countries had implemented, the disastrous misinformation that plagued others and—as vaccines finally became available—the inequalities that determined who could secure adequate immunizations. It’s now been a year since we started these weekly looks and to mark the anniversary, we’re highlighting several of the biggest themes we saw as countries on every continent grappled with the first global pandemic in a century.

Innovation in the midst of crisis

As national governments struggled to respond to the pandemic, individual doctors, organizers and scientists began inventing creative ways to protect their communities. In Papua New Guinea, nurses used rice packets as glovesand laundry detergent as disinfectant while awaiting an emergency loan from the World Bank. Meanwhile, in Thailand, a community project dedicated to cleaning up the ocean turned discarded fishing nets, notorious for ensnaring turtles and damaging coral reefs, into face shields. In India, chef Vikas Khanna coordinated one of the world’s largest food drives, “Feed India,” to put food on the tables of an estimated 50 million Indians struggling to provide for their families during the pandemic. And in Japan, Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International organized a trial run of a robot designed to identify customers not wearing masks and remind those not social distancing to do so when they line up to pay.

Disinformation across countries big and small

Despite the best efforts of scientists and public health workers, rumors, myths and political misinformation about the toll of the pandemic spread as rapidly as the virus. In Nigeria, organizers launched social media campaigns to counter a creeping belief in the country that the pandemic was a hoax. Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko dismissed fears of the pandemic as a global “psychosis” and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called the disease a “measly cold.” A year on, misinformation is still slowing vaccination and testing efforts. In January 2021, we reported that Boom Bangladesh, Facebook’s fact-checking partner in Bangladesh, had flagged around a million posts that spread misinformation that month alone.

Vaccinations and inequity

Although our team in the United States is looking forward to receiving vaccines in the coming weeks, many of the writers and photographers whose work we’ve brought to you in the pages of Stranger’s Guide face much longer waits. As Western nations like the U.S. bought up large, early supplies of vaccines, others were cut out of the process. Although President Biden announced last week that all Americans will be eligible for the vaccine by April 19, residents of much of Africa, Oceania, Central America, and Central Asia may not be fully vaccinated until 2023. The world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, the Serum Institute of India, will likely make most of its COVID-19 immunizations for developing countries.


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