It has been announced that in 2020 the UK economy shrank by 9.9%, the largest drop on record. This combined with the uncertainty regarding the impact of the South African Coronavirus variant, and the government’s continued mixed messages on whether to book your summer holidays means the list of reasons for celebration in 2021 feels sparse. One could be forgiven for thinking that 2021 so far seems a chillier extension of 2020, as the country remains largely in a state of stasis. But beneath the doom and gloom headlines, there are many potential green shoots indicating that 2021 overall still holds a lot of potential. Here are 5 reasons for optimism in 2021:
- Economic bounce back: It is true that the UK economy shrank by the largest margin on record last year, but this alone does not reveal any structural weaknesses in the economy. It simply demonstrates the principle that if you close businesses they will not generate any revenue. In fact, the picture is rather brighter than the initial headline would suggest; the economy grew by 1.2% in December as some restrictions were eased, meaning the UK will likely avoid a double dip recession. This also indicates that as restrictions are removed, the economy could recover very rapidly, especially in sectors such as hospitality and travel which have been completely shut down by the pandemic.
- The vaccines: The fundamental difference between 2020 and 2021 is the existence of a multiplicity of seemingly highly effective Coronavirus vaccines, which the UK is leading the way in developing and rolling out. At the time of writing, 13.5 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine in the UK, on target to reach 15 million of the most vulnerable people this month. With the first dose providing over 70% protection against the disease, as well as reportedly stopping its transmission in those who have had the vaccine, case numbers must inevitably fall. Of course, concerns remain regarding how various new strains of the disease may impact the vaccine, but the major pharmaceutical firms have already diverted their vast resources into overcoming this challenge. It is also yet to be proven the existing vaccines will be significantly disrupted by new strains. It may well be the case that the Coronavirus vaccine simply becomes a part of our life, as the flu jab has been for the elderly and vulnerable for years. This has the dual benefit of saving lives while allowing a restoration of our personal liberties, with a definitive end to lock downs perhaps tantalisingly close.
- The environment: The drastic enforced break in economic activity and global travel undoubtedly has had a short-term positive benefit on the environment as carbon emissions are cut. In the long term, as video meetings replace business travel and working from home become the norm for many, the pandemic may have provided the sharp shock we needed to change our habits meaningfully to safeguard the environment.
- A return to a sense of community: The pandemic has highlighted to everyone the importance of community, whether as a source of strength in times of stress or simply as a positive way to stave off loneliness. Many people have reconnected during the pandemic whether via Zoom quizzes, digital movie nights, or on virtual exercise sessions. It is likely this renewed sense of community will be carried forward to the post-pandemic world, even if the sense of community solidarity has not quite extended to Handforth Parish Council.
- A long-term focus on improving health and pandemic preparations: The Coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated the importance of healthcare provisions and preparedness planning to all. The UK government is already outlining wide ranging reforms to the NHS with an aim to improve its effectiveness, while huge institutions such as the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation look to bolster pandemic planning for the future. It is likely that the Coronavirus will bring about sweeping much needed healthcare reforms in the US too, as the vaccine being provided free has already called into question the private healthcare model. On a personal level for many, it has also been a wakeup call to improve health whether by taking up running or building that home gym.
Perhaps the biggest cause for optimism in the end, however, is none of these 5 points. The biggest cause for optimism may be that once life returns to some semblance of normality, we will never take for granted the small things again. Whether it is a holiday abroad, being in a muddy festival surrounded by our friends and strangers, or simply sharing a drink in the pub, all of these things will take on a renewed sense of importance and joy. Undoubtedly there will be a collective feeling of a need to make up for lost time. While there remains no fixed date for an end to lockdown, as vaccinations rise and case numbers fall, whether we have to wait a few weeks longer for freedom or not will perhaps simply be a footnote in 2021 once we begin our lives again.