2020 led to worldwide lockdowns and the largest economic recession since the Great Depression. One consequence is that London’s population is expected to shrink in 2021 for the first time since 1988, with over 700,000 residents leaving the city since the beginning of the pandemic. COVID-19 has stemmed the flow of graduates and migrants into the capital, whilst lockdowns have prompted city-dwellers to re-evaluate their living situations. Others fear the impacts of Brexit on the capital which some experts believe will lead to a long-term reduction in property demand. Whilst bad news for current homeowners, this could be beneficial for younger generations who may be able to take advantage of London’s unprecedented affordability.
Boris Johnson’s one-vaccine approach will also be under spotlight in 2021. There is mixed consensus on the approach in the scientific community, with some concerned that it may breed vaccine-resistant forms of the virus. Professor Bieniasz, a retrovirologist at Rockefeller University, is watching the UK with fear: “My concern, as a virologist, is that if you wanted to make a vaccine-resistant strain, what you would do is to build a cohort of partially immunized individuals in the teeth of a highly prevalent viral infection”.
The UK’s death rate from COVID-19 is the seventh highest in the world, recently surpassing 100,000 and with more than half of these deaths occurring since November. However, Britain is vastly outperforming its neighbours in one area: vaccine rollout. For Boris Johnson this is a huge win; the programme’s success is largely due to both Britain’s decision to opt out of the EU’s
vaccination programme as well as the early emergency authorisation of vaccines, both of which would have been more difficult if not for Brexit. After many months of negative ratings, recent polls suggest a surge of approval for Johnson. However the real credit extends far beyond Johnson, from the scientists who developed the vaccines to the NHS who are delivering a fair and efficient rollout.
Johnson may have regained approval but that is precisely when his government is most prone to mistakes. He must learn from past lessons and not succumb too quickly to the pressure to return to normalcy. Ultimately, 2020 should serve as a warning to humanity. Despite our technological progress as a species, we are still vulnerable to devastating pandemics. COVID-19 was not the first pandemic—just one example, the Black Death killed ~10% of the world’s population
—and it will not be the last. By viewing 2020 as an unprecedented time, we risk leaving ourselves vulnerable again. It is essential that in the wake of COVID-19, we exploit this narrow window of opportunity to prepare for other neglected threats such as antibiotic resistance and artificial intelligence.
To quote Dr Toby Ord, a Senior Research Fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University: “Without a great effort, I fear we will learn only the narrow lessons—those that might help prevent a re-run of 2020—while failing to address the increasingly important threat of engineered pandemics, or the array of other existential risks we face. This is a rare opportunity to change course, because it won’t be long before the societal antibodies from this once-in-a-century pandemic begin to fade. We should make the most of it.”
New York City will heal. It always does. After all the major events it’s faced — the Great Depression, the Harlem Race Riots, the September 11 attacks— the city always returns in a familiar, albeit different, form. The COVID-19-induced urban exodus (in spring) of those privileged enough to “flee” left many to wonder whether the virus would mark the death of NYC, while the protests in May and June in reaction to the killing of George Floyd confronted those remaining with the major inequalities that exist and persist in their beloved city.
2021 will see NYC coming to terms with the almighty year of 2020—a year which saw people forced to rethink space: home space, city space, social space, mental space. Some will be eager to return to the city, some will be so comfortable as to stay in their distant refuges. But people will return. And to those who do, NYC will markedly appear and feel different. Against what some may secretly want to believe is the death of NYC, in the wake of a ravaging airborne virus transported by the piss-flavored air of subways, cities are important. But as a convincingly large number of companies plan to reduce their office space usage in the new year, who returns is in question.
For an older generation of New Yorkers with families, remote employment supports and justifies a distance from the Big Apple in more affordable outer suburbs. Yet for a younger generation, the lure of the city, with its networking opportunities and inevitable art and music revival, will pull them back in. The vibrant and cultural centre of NYC, Manhattan, will likely undergo the greatest shift of the boroughs with an onset of
younger inhabitants. While some older New Yorkers pack up their towers of National Geographic magazines to head for greener pastures, their former enclosures open up to a new generation eager to reset.
Generational change in NYC is long overdue. But 2021 won’t just be characterized by the volume of new tenants in Manhattan: the built city will change as well. The pandemic has cleared paths for developers who give promises of a future with new jobs and fresh infrastructure. Debates on issues like rezoning will be hotly contested in the 2021 New York City Council elections.
Lame duck Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans for rezoning many parts of NYC, particularly the SoHo and NoHo neighbourhoods, have laid the groundwork for a potential trans-
-formation of the cityscape. Those opposed to these plans, which mandate the inclusion of affordable housing in all new residential developments, reject the housing policies on the grounds that they are simply sizable offerings to luxury real estate developers in exchange for a small percentage of arguably “affordable” housing.
2021 will redefine space (in all forms and manifestations) in NYC. The rezoning of neighbourhoods will transform the landscape, the persistence of remote work will alter the population inhabiting it. And the impending generational change accelerated by the pandemic will be noticed by all who know NYC, from the vaguely familiar to the intimately aware.
2020 was a wild and draining year. A new coronavirus (a word many of us hadn’t heard before) hammered itself into our everyday conversations and interactions, ushering in endless conspiracy theories surrounding its origin, effect and remedies. Similarly, the pandemic brought to the forefront new and recycled debates on public welfare and government efficiency. Amongst this pandemonium, social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and #EndSARS, a campaign lead by young Nigerians, made racism and police brutality a global topic.
As people across the globe continued to feel the pandemic's effects in full force, days and months blended into a continuous blur, allowing for extended reflection. My own time reflecting has made me see 2021 not as the optimistic social and economic reset many hope it will be but, rather, the next term in a mathematical sequence; the type of progression and difference between the terms 2020 and 2021 still hanging in the balance.
For me, closing the tumultuous chapter of 2020 casts my mind back to the initial end-time predictions from Western scientists about how COVID-19 would ravage Africa with significant loss of human life. These predictions have been discredited by currently available data on COVID's impact in Africa but the clear economic toll the virus has had, and will continue to have, on countries across the continent makes long-term predictions more complicated. Lockdowns in densely populated cities like mine, reduced the virus's transmission. But these lockdowns were unsustainable and crippled the informal sector, where many workers literally survive on their daily bread.
The battle with COVID-19 is shifting gears. Vaccine access and administration are already dominating this year’s debates. Indeed, the hoarding of vaccines by wealthier
nations has already begun. Foresight is needed, not only to finance vaccines but also to ensure their safe delivery; specific temperature demands may incur exorbitant electricity costs for some nations.
On the other side of the coin, it is likely that the greatest challenge will be convincing citizens to trust the government and scientists and by taking the vaccine. Lagos' hustle and bustle has already reasserted itself, as many go about their lives like the pandemic is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is to too many the fantastical creation of a bad dream or a government ploy to make the average citizen's life more strenuous. I can see it now: the WhatsApp block messages forwarding on mass cautioning about vaccines' contents, sermons from religious leaders instructing followers to trust solely in God's hands lest they be led astray. These actions and beliefs are somewhat understandable: they stem
largely from fear and confusion, which run in tangent with the inadequacies of our national education system and a deep distrust of the government.
What 2020 demonstrated was the necessity of greater youth engagement with politics including but beyond presidential elections. It highlighted how essential it is that we pay attention to and contest policies that may in the long run come back to haunt us. What I sincerely hope to see this year is strong, empathetic leadership and community--not just from elected leaders, but from each of us. We have the ability to inspire collective hope; we need to uphold the compassion and self-discipline to consider and care about how we affect others. Will our sequence have the upward incline we so desire?
Hong Kong has had a challenging year both in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic and its political climate. The 30th June saw the passing of a new security law, which allowed China to establish a new security office in Hong Kong. The law has, again, questioned Hong Kong’s autonomy and indeed amplified the existing concerns voiced by the protests.
With its Legislative Council having passed a HK$6.4 billion Covid-19 subsidy package just before Christmas, existing financial strains are evident in Hong Kong’s economy too. This has been exacerbated by the administration’s failure to contain the pandemic: with cases rising, Hong Kong has just entered its fourth wave. Our focus is rightly centred upon its economy, its health crisis, and its relation to China.
However, there are a number of issues which have disappeared into the thick, curtained folds of our attention. A key topic to watch is Hong Kong’s policy on environment. The region’s per capita rubbish disposal rate has decreased by 3.2% from 2019 and its levels of commercial and industrial waste have decreased by 4.5% to 4,503 tonnes a day. Efforts to reduce its coal-dependency were marked with the ambitious HK$200 million Green Tech Fund, launched in the first half of December. With Hong Kong’s pledge to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050, we should see increasing innovation this year for its renewable energy sector.
The housing crisis, of course, remains a towering shadow over the administration’s domestic policy. The South China Morning Post has reported that more than a third of
15,000 promised transitional housing flats remain unbuilt. Hong Kong still tops the global rankings of the world’s most expensive property markets: a residential property is valued at $1.23 million on average. And embattled by reduced foreign investment, its socio-political unrest and reduced immigration, a tough climate lies ahead for Hong Kong’s commercial property market in 2021.
We should be prepared, too, for the impact that Joe Biden’s presidency will have on Hong Kong’s position on the international stage. Some are concerned that Biden may, unlike Trump, follow the approach set by former Democratic presidents by prioritising trade relations with
China. However, Biden is unlikely to be soft on China, given his emphasis on multilateralism and international pressures to ‘act tough’.
Hong Kong has always been an important indicator of the international economic, political and diplomatic machine, and I think that it faces a key number of challenges in 2021. The nature of these challenges will be determined by geopolitics as much as by the policies of its administration. Indeed, what lies ahead in 2021 will be determined by the extent to which Hong Kong asserts itself.