Ben Lowry: There have been positive developments from 2020, for which to be thankful

This column has interpreted a lot of the events of 2020 in a negative way.
Covid revealed a communal spirit that had been hidden by the great wealth and ease of modern society. People wanted to show their support for frontline health staffCovid revealed a communal spirit that had been hidden by the great wealth and ease of modern society. People wanted to show their support for frontline health staff
Covid revealed a communal spirit that had been hidden by the great wealth and ease of modern society. People wanted to show their support for frontline health staff

That is because a lot of bad things have happened.

So, for the holiday season, here are some positive ways of looking at big events.

1. Covid-19 has lasted longer than most of us expected and there is now a worrying upswing in cases.

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But perhaps it has been a dress rehearsal for a far worse future pandemic.

The billionaire computer tycoon Bill Gates has been warning for years about pandemics. Now one has struck. It is unclear whether the death rate from Covid is 1% (one person in every 100 infected dies) or closer to half that 0.5% (one in 200). That is a tragedy for those affected and in absolute terms a huge number of people (if 1% of the UK was to die for some reason, it would be a disastrous 700,000 people).

But some pandemics have had fatality rates of 10% of more.

Most nations were woefully unprepared on everything from handwash to personal protection equipment to ventilators.

We were ignorant of perils such as people breathing over others or shaking hands.

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Now every child old enough to remember things , say aged five or above, will know for the rest of their lives that some diseases can strike quickly, and spread easily.

2. We have been reminded of the fact that while people are selfish, we also act communally in a time of a crisis.

During this pandemic, people wanted to protect the health service. The tendency to rush to GPs or A&E over minor health matters evaporated. People also wanted to show support for frontline staff.

Prior to this crisis western societies had become so comfortable and insulated from daily challenges that it would have been reasonable to wonder if this communal spirit still existed. We found that it does.

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Most people will observe restrictions for the greater good of society.

3. Covid has made society more aware of social evils such as mental health problems and loneliness.

We have also become more mindful of the need for homes to have outside access. Fewer flats will be built without at least a balcony now, because fewer people will buy one.

4. Just when the world needed technology such as video calls, such advances became widely available.

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Ten years ago News Letter staff could not and would not have worked from home. Now we can write directly on to a page from home, and talk to colleagues by video conference, yet prior to Covid we rarely did.

Many types of businesses are doing the same. Home working is not longer taboo, and seen as a bit lazy.

There are pros and cons to both office working and home working. The latter can be lonely for people living alone or unbearable for people sharing a house with a noisy family. A mix of home and office working is probably the future.

This will make life easier for people who still have to commute. Even if only half of workers can work from home, and if such people do so only on average 50% of the time, that will mean 25% fewer commuters (50% of 50%) on a typical day.

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It will make living in cities less necessary and should help rebalance house prices between town and country, and might help to rejuvenate a less urban society such as Northern Ireland.

5. Technology will help alleviate the problems above, such as loneliness.

My family’s Christmas plans were heavily curtailed due to new travel and Covid advice, but yesterday I talked to some people by Skype (video), including a friend who was alone.

Such calls can rejuvenate us almost as much as meeting people does.

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6. The environment is becoming a higher priority. This should make it harder to build houses where you please, and lead to growing pressure big polluting nations such as China.

There will be innovations in everything from planes that emit less to biodegradable plastics. The vast, and growing, global population might yet live in a cleaner world.

7. Things are becoming safer.

The 50 year trend towards fewer major wars might continue. Roads, which have also become safer in the last 50 years, will become more so, via ‘smart vehicles’ that spot dangers.

8. Brexit. Whether you are fan or a foe of it, most people will be relieved that the UK and EU have pulled back from the brink of no deal.

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Despite the NI protocol, a horror to unionists, and despite Boris Johnson’s Irish Sea border pledges having turned to dust, he uttered an uplifting line on Christmas Eve: “Although we have left the EU, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe.”

It reminded me of the earliest Belfast News Letters of the 1730s: full of news from Ulster, from all Ireland, Scotland, London, America, and above all from Europe. Each edition is packed with despatches from Spain, France, Holland, Germany, Italy, Russia and Turkey.

The world seemed full of optimism then, It is all the better now. It will probably be still better 300 years into the future.

Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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