The year had begun in a normal fashion; new semester for students, winter weddings, new personal resolutions for many. News of a virus from China was in the air, but its severity was still unknown.
But soon people began to fall sick like dominos, deaths began to spike, and countries started to impose lockdowns. Soon the world learned of Covid-19.
Today, the total number of coronavirus cases worldwide has crossed 81 million.
This year has been a whirlwind of emotions for all of us. On the one hand, we learned that human beings are rather frail creatures. On the other, we learned that human beings could become extraordinarily resilient and possess incredible strength when needed.
It has been a year of blinding grief, but then news of the frontliners' battles to save lives gave us sparks of hope.
Many of us lost our dear ones, but we also learned to be grateful for being alive and healthy; for being able to have a meal and a warm bed despite hundreds of people becoming unemployed and forced to lower their standard of living.
Many events rattled our lives this year, most of which were triggered by the pandemic. We present some of this year's highlights and lowlights:
Breathing cleaner air
At the beginning of the nationwide shutdown, roads were devoid of traffic. Factories were shut down, and Dhaka was a ghost city.
But its air and noise pollution level had gone down, and it seemed as if nature was finally blooming in the concrete mess.
According to a report by UNB, in May 2020, Dhaka's air was classified as "moderate" with an AQI (Air Quality Index) score below 100 after a long time.
Before winter began, Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, could be clearly seen from Panchagarh. Although it happens every year, people were especially taken by it this year.
Dolphins, red crabs, and turtles were seen playing on the beach at Cox's Bazar. Pictures of horses galloping along the shore also stole our hearts.
We woke up to hygiene
The public developed a greater sense of hygiene which might probably help us with future disease outbreaks. Wearing masks, frequently washing hands, using hand sanitiser, maintaining social distancing have become a part of the 'new normal'. In a country where people often lack civic sense - speaking too close to one's face, spitting in public, etc - it was refreshing to live in an environment where people kept a healthy distance from each other.
Work from home became widespread
Work from home has been practised in many countries for years. But in Bangladesh, it became popular in 2020. Since gatherings increase the risk of contracting the virus, many offices chose to work from home, and many continue to do so. To adapt to it, many offices have introduced new work protocols and standards to assess performance, which hopefully will continue beyond the pandemic. The growth of work-from-home also opens up larger opportunities for women to join the workforce as well as for employment to travel beyond national boundaries.
People learned the use of technology
There was a surge in the use of technology as office meetings were mostly held over Zoom. According to BBC, Zoom use increased 30-fold in April 2020. People also used Whatsapp more frequently as well as hundreds of other apps - such as Foodpanda and Daraz - to order food and other necessities from their homes.
Senior citizens and parents had a tough time getting used to video calls and mobile apps, which lead to many hilarious events across families. But in the end, everyone learned to adapt.
E-commerce and digital payments surged
E-commerce had a boom during the pandemic as more and more people chose to shop online. According to media sources, the size of the country's e-commerce reached Tk166.16 billion until August 2020.
Contactless payment or digital payment also became popular, and consumers were using MFS providers like bKash and on-demand digital platforms like Pathao a lot.
During the peak of the pandemic, bKash had a daily transaction between Tk6.5 and TK7 billion (as of April 12 of this year).
Vaccines restored optimism for 2021
After months of Covid-19 nightmares, the world has finally found vaccines. The mRNA vaccines are now being distributed around the globe. With high level efficacy and safety, they can be produced more quickly than conventional vaccines. Thanks to booming computational biology and the vaccines, we now have a relatively optimistic outlook for 2021. The mRNA has also potentials for helping to mend damaged hearts.
The economy suffered
Bangladesh's economy suffered badly in the pandemic year. Except for the remittance income, almost all major economic indicators underperformed in 2020.
Continuing the whole year's falling trend, the private sector credit growth dropped to single digit in November. Year-on-year credit growth dipped to 9.87 percent in November, breaking the previous month's record lowest rate of 10 percent.
Besides, the country didn't show significant growth in foreign direct investment (FDI) as well. During the first seven months of FY2020, FDI increased by only four per cent, compared to fiscal year 2019.
While the World Bank predicted only1.6 percent GDP growth for Bangladesh in June, the IMF projected Bangladesh's GDP growth to plunge to 33-year low this year.
Businesses stumbled, and many of them were forced to shut down their operations. Hotel and restaurant businesses were among the ones hit the hardest. The Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) estimated that the tourism sector could lose up to Tk60 billion in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Unemployment rose. A local newspaper reported that as of June 2020, at least 50,000 low-income individuals left Dhaka and returned to their hometowns. It also said that as of April 2020, 71 percent of urban slum-dwellers and 55 percent of rural poor were unemployed due to the pandemic.
Education: No class, no exam
Educational institutions around the country were shut down due to the pandemic, and they are still closed. Online classes and tuitions came to the rescue, but HSC and equivalent examinations were cancelled.
In July, the Business Standard reported that many teachers were forced to take up menial jobs because of the pandemic. Some teachers were forced to become day labourers or vegetable vendors.
The government did allocate Tk46.63 crore to help 81,000 non-MPO (monthly pay order) teachers and 25,000 employees of different educational institutions. But the amount was not sufficient.
Violence against women soared
There was an increase in violence against women in the country during the shutdown. According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), at least 583 women were raped from January to October, 198 of them were gang-raped. When the shutdown was lifted, there was an increase in crime as well. Police Headquarters data revealed that 11,500 police cases were recorded in May 2020, and 13,192 cases were recorded in June 2020.
People's mental health break down
The pandemic took a heavy toll on mental health. Although exact data is not yet available, many people suffered from increased anxiety and depression, especially during the shutdown.
But online and tele-counselling services were offered by some organisations like Moner Bondhu and PHWC.
Film industry had a rough year
Cinema Halls in Bangladesh have been suffering from losses for a long time, and due to Covid-19, around 50 cinemas were closed this year. The release dates of many Dhallywood films were pushed back. Although Bangladeshi OTT platforms tried to up their game, many viewers stuck to Netflix.
Despite the deaths and losses, we kept seeking hope and never gave up on it.
In February 2020, Bangladesh made history by winning the ICC U-19 World Cup.
This year, Bangladeshi scientist Dr Firdausi Qadri won the L'Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Award (Asia-Pacific region) in recognition of her outstanding work on immunology and infectious disease research.
The news of 17-year old Sadat Rahman winning the International Children's Peace Prize 2020 made us happy and proud. Previous winners of the award include Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai. Sadat made an app called "Cyber Teens" to help prevent cyber bullying of teenagers.
Recently, Science News magazine published their SN Top 10 Scientists for this year which included Bangladeshi astrophysicist Tonima Tasnim Ananna for her remarkable work on black holes.
This year has taught us that we will find a way to live no matter what, even if it requires us to make countless sacrifices and adjustments.
May the New Year make us stronger in our race to defeat Covid-19.