No New Year has ever burst forth from the darkest recess of a year like the one gone by. As the first sun rays tentatively sparkle through the wintry mist and haze on the eastern horizon, to announce the New Year's Day 2021, the bereaving and shell-shocked human race on this planet will be in prayer for deliverance from the oppressive year full of hopelessness, trial, tribulation and unprecedented loss of lives.
The pestilence turned the year 2000 a year of mourning and painful separation. In sheer number of deaths, the world's richest, most powerful country with the highly advanced medical system has surpassed every other nation. Every life is precious but still the loss of some lives leaves a crippling effect on a nation. Bangladesh may not have figured in the top segment of casualties, but the Covid-19 seems to have been partial in claiming as many prize scalps as it can.
The majority of founders and renowned entrepreneurs of the country's top industries and companies lost to the disease. Next target of the pathogen were the leading lights and enlightened minds in society, who guided the nation with their erudition, creative works in education, literature and socio-cultural arena. On that count, the pathogen was no less cruel, murderous and vengeful than the Pakistani brutal army which embarked on annihilation of the Bangalee intellectuals on the eve of its surrender. But the sacrifice of the frontline warriors in this fight has often been less visible ---a staggering number of them lost their lives.
Coronavirus is yet to call it a day. Will it surrender soon like the Pakistani army? In Europe its fresh spike is even more concerning than before because of the spread of a new strain 70 per cent more infectious. It has carried out its aggression into Asia, including India. Experts here are, however, divided in opinion of its presence in Bangladesh. So, one thing is clear: the threat is very much there.
Notwithstanding the trepidation, fear and uncertainties, there is one definite ray of hope. Mankind, after all, has been able to build a proven defence against the deadly pathogen. Development of vaccines ---not just one but quite a few --- and their approval for clinical use in record times once again do justice to the talent and resourcefulness of human beings. Ultimately, it is the human spirit and endeavour that triumph over as treacherous an enemy as the sub-microscopic coronavirus.
So, not all is lost for this superior species. Humankind suffers a blight of an outsize order almost at the end of a century. This pandemic follows the Spanish flu of 1918. That was the time when the World War I had just ended. The flu claimed about 0.5 million lives. But the war claimed 20 million people and 21 million others were left wounded. In the World War II, 50-56 million military and civilian deaths were reported with 19-28 million more fatalities due to war-related diseases and famine.
Clearly, man himself is his greatest enemy. This pandemic, no doubt of an unprecedented order, has claimed so far more than 1.8 million lives and by the time it is brought under control, may have caused fatalities in between 2.0 and 3.0 million, which by itself is a frightening figure but far fewer than the World War II casualties. It matches the fatalities of the Wold War I and gives a nightmarish experience only because the world has made so much progress in science and technology including medical science and yet was at its mercy for long 10 months.
The good thing is that the world has averted a major military conflict so far although there were flares on many fronts including in our neighbourhood that could push the world into such a deadly war. Thank the Almighty, a buffoon of a president is on way out. Had he been at the helm of affairs of the mightiest military power, anything could happen.
However, in terms of values that humans have upheld and relations that have acted as a sustaining universal bond to consolidate civilisation, the loss has been grievous. Now the hope is there that by the middle of the New Year or a little later, vaccine will be widely available for inoculation, it can definitely be ascertained that the worst will be over by then. Some doubt will still linger over the vaccination of the peoples in the poor parts of the planet and more particularly among the poorest segments of most societies. If herd immunity is obtained by that time, so much the better; if not, it will not be nightmarish as the immunity of the poor in slums and villagers here has amply demonstrated.
In terms of a turnaround, though, economic recovery is a major factor but it is not the only and deciding factor. Human beings will have to be more humane than they ever were. If economic hardship and confinement to homes can turn people violent, particularly the male among them, and fuel the predatory sexual instinct outside, there is a clear indication of a diseased civilisation.
Pathogen-created phobia and stifling environment will definitely give in to a better state of mind and sunny days but the darkness within that leapt out to refuse and reject family bond in the most trying time will haunt a large number of people. Education, family and social orientation need a paradigm shift in order to conquer the abysmal cynicism and insane psychological makeup that shape modern people. The overriding need is to come clean and welcome the year 2021 if humanity wants to make a rapid recovery from the previous year's trauma. Thus celebration of the New Year will be meaningful.