We asked for views from around the Round Table editorial board on the challenges of 2020 and the lessons we can take into 2021.
Chair of the Round Table Editorial Board, Victoria Schofield, writes:
‘A fellow feeling makes us wondrous kind,’ wrote the 18th century British poet, Alexander Pope. So what of our shared experience of the world-wide Covid-19 pandemic? Have we, as citizens of the world, become kinder, more considerate individuals because we are all having to deal, in our own way, with a dramatic alteration to the lifestyle we had taken for granted? Wherever we live in the world, we have all had to come to terms with the realisation that life, as we knew it before the pandemic took hold, has not yet returned and, in some respects, may never do so. Crowded restaurants, jam-packed sporting events, cinemas, theatres, hugging friends and acquaintances, sitting squashed next door to strangers on public transport may all be experiences of the past. Instead, we have had to acclimatise to being at arm’s length, keeping our distance in shops and supermarkets and above all wearing a mask, that controversial accessory which former president Donald Trump so publicly resisted.
But what have we really learnt from our enforced social distancing, self-isolation and periods of lockdown? Have we appreciated the emptier streets, the less polluted skies, the sound of the birds singing, which city dwellers never seemed to hear because our ears were more attuned to the rumble of buses and cars? When we have been able to meet friends, have we relished such encounters as a rarity in our social calendar?
Most importantly, what of those who live alone and who have felt the emptiness of a day constrained by restrictions on movement? How have they fared? While the enforced isolation may have benefited their health, how has it affected their mental well-being? The shopkeepers, restaurant and pub owners, businesses who have seen their livelihood vanish before their eyes? What impact has the pandemic had on the doctors and nurses who have had to deal close up with its awful consequences? Those who have seen people die in their thousands, and yet who have had to carry on, even though in so doing, their own lives may also be at risk to an elusive virus whose character has taken nearly a year to understand and which, as I write, is mutating, making the challenge for the scientists, who have been tirelessly working on finding a vaccine, yet more complicated?
And how have peoples’ experiences varied from one country to another, not only in the vast array of different countries of the Commonwealth but throughout the world? Yes, we have marvelled at our ability to keep in touch via the worldwide web with Zoom and WhatsApp as well as endless discussions in omnipresent webinars; but has our inability to travel left us mentally more insular, the requirement to stay at home dulled our natural spirit of adventure, making us risk-averse and less well-informed?
As Chair of the Editorial Board of the Round Table during this unprecedented year, I have learnt to take charge of zoom meetings where each participant is reduced to an identical sized square, the background no longer the shared space of a meeting room, but the varied setting of our respective homes, a board member’s desire to speak signalled by raising a ‘blue hand’ on my computer screen. I have had to interpret thoughts through distilled facial expressions rather than through the collegiate atmosphere of a convivial discussion. By Zoom and tried and tested telephone, I have had to learn to problem solve, initiate and innovate, which has once more reinforced the benefits of technology, new and old.
Of course as the year draws to an end, we all wish that we can put Covid-19 behind us, that a New Year will signify a new beginning and that this dreadful virus won’t follow us into 2021. But as we re-set our lives in its wake, perhaps the one thought we should take with us, is how fortunate we all are, in all the diversity of our collective individuality, whatever privations we may have endured.
Rita Payne, member of the Round Table Editorial Board and President-Emeritus of the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA), writes about media freedom under attack in 2020:
In a year in which the world has been ravaged by the Corona virus, one would have expected that journalists would have been valued as purveyors of information about the true nature of the disease and its impact. In fact, the opposite has been the case. According to an annual survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists at least 274 journalists have been jailed globally this year as governments cracked down on coverage of COVID-19 or tried to suppress reporting on political unrest. The pandemic has provided governments with a new excuse to wield laws criminalising the spread of “fake news,” “misinformation,” or “false information” — and offered a reason to implement new ones. With COVID-19, what has started as a global health crisis could become a period of severe social unrest testing democratic institutions to the limit. Independent journalism is essential to finding an end to the pandemic and mitigating the consequences of the spread of COVID-19.
Dr Carl Wright is Secretary-General Emeritus of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum and a member of the Round Table Editorial Board:
2020 has been a traumatic year and I have drawn three major lessons:
First, social solidarity and looking after our fellow-human beings has priority over narrow profit considerations and full-blown Keynesianism has displaced neo-liberal market economics.
Second, low-income health and other essential workers have more value than billionaires and deserve a better deal.
Third, a pandemic respects no national boundaries and international cooperation, whether through the EU, the UN or the Commonwealth is more important than ever.
Post-Covid recovery must build on these vital realisations, above all in addressing the looming climate emergency and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.
Debbie Ransome, Web Editor for the Round Table and CJA executive member, writes:
In this roller-coaster year, editing and managing the Round Table’s website and social media presence has felt like being a suburban traffic policeman suddenly set down on a superhighway. We’ve tackled coronavirus lockdowns, fake news and global protests. We’ve faced cancel culture and the “Great Awokening”. But let’s be positive: the Commonwealth community has been sharing lessons from the pandemic and planning the way forward. Some of these discussions are highlighted in the related articles below. In 2021, let’s try, as Prince Charles said in June, to use a “post-Covid lens” and come up with development that heals, not harms.
- The Commonwealth Secretary-General announces four special envoys and champions
- The four living former Commonwealth secretaries-general talk about their stewardship and their hopes for the future of the organisation (videos, transcripts)
- SDGs and the Commonwealth
- Using the past to develop a Commonwealth future
- The Commonwealth: Towards Kigali 2021
- Rethinking business as usual in Commonwealth education
- What role for the Commonwealth in the new normal – AD (after the Disease)?
- A call to action for sustainable cities
- Local government fighting Covid-19