2021 Roundup: Two years after COVID-19, we crunch numbers
Whether it's vaccine apartheid or procreation choices, oil price fluctuation or Hollywood blues - the pandemic has changed the way the world works.
In 2019, the world witnessed an unprecedented lockdown, an economic dip, job anxiety, and existential crises. Alone in a globally collective quarantine, human beings had started to question the true purpose of their existence and their life choices. Many have come to realize the futility of material, what it means to live in a world where everything can fall apart in a moment.
While the coronavirus had exacerbated abuse, tore relationships and families apart, and put careers on hold, many used the pandemic to mitigate unresolved issues, spend quality time with their families, and find love in a ‘hopeless place.’ Two years later, many aspects of our lives are still affected, from unemployment to family dynamics, to politics and economics, vaccines gaps, and beyond.
World economies were one of the first to be ‘collaterally damaged’ as COVID-19 ravaged the planet in 2020. The repercussions were so dire to the extent that developed countries themselves are still recovering from the sterility they encountered in tourism, energy, transportation, and beyond. According to Statista, between 2019 and 2020, the world saw an unemployment increase from 187.3 million to 220.3 million, which was the most significant unemployment increase in that timeframe. That number increased slightly in 2021 to 220.5 million and is expected to significantly decrease in 2022 to at least 205 million.
Unemployment hit various countries differently. In Lebanon for instance, whose economic crisis is currently in an abysmal free-fall, the unemployment rate was found to be 35% this year in May. In February 2020, the Lebanese unemployment rate was 28%, and that increased to 40% by November 2020.
The United States, on the other hand, has also been seeing an unemployment crisis which was exacerbated by the Coronavirus. In 2019, the unemployment rate was at 3.67%, which increased to 8.31% the following year, decreasing to 4.6% as of October 2021.
Gaza, however, had seen the worst. While the high unemployment rate is attributed to “Hamas’ administration’s mismanagement of funds,” many don’t acknowledge the elephant in the room: Israeli occupation, which essentially shoots the economy in the leg. According to the Head of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in the Gaza Strip, Sami Al-Assi, the unemployment rate in Gaza had increased by 17% in 2020, reaching a jaw-dropping 82% unemployment rate.
When it came to Europe as a whole, the continent witnessed an unemployment rate of 8.4% in October 2020, which decreased to 7.3% in October 2021, hitting a plateau. In a country like Brazil, unemployed young adults with college degrees were at 2.5 million in 2019, which increased to 3.5 million in 2020, which constitutes a 43% change.
Pandemic gains (billionaire edition)
The wealth gap stretched in the middle of this crisis as the wealthy’s wealth doubled while the working class sunk into unemployment and anxiety for the future – especially in the United States. According to Inequality.org, US billionaire collective wealth increased by 70%, which is a $2 trillion change. That financial class, cumulatively, is worth some $5 trillion now.
Wealth is not the only thing that grew. The number of US billionaires also grew at an alarming rate, from 614 billionaires to 745 billionaires.
The wealth gap is stark, almost as if America is two worlds – the glitzy glamour scene studded with ice and caviar, and the reality of the 89 million US citizens who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
According to Forbes, while Elon Musk’s wealth was at some $24 billion in March 2020, the owner of Tesla and SpaceX managed to gain $184 billion more to his account, surpassing controversial e-commerce mogul Jeff Bezos, whose wealth gained “only” 70%. Musk’s wealth, if you’d like to know, grew 751%. Bill Gates, the owner of Microsoft, added $34 billion to his wealth, totaling $132 billion, coming in third to Musk and Bezos.
The dictatorship of Big Pharma
Could Big Pharma have possibly, out of any miracle, ever, given out their recipes? India and Germany could tell you a story about that.
While individualism breeds trauma responses made to isolate people around the world, leaving humanity at the mercy of their ‘god’ – the capitalists – the situation was exacerbated and made a lot worse as corporates refused to release information to nations combatting the virus regarding the vaccine recipes. This logic pushed for the existence of what we have today: the ‘Chinese’ vaccine, Pfizer, Moderna, the ‘Russian’ vaccine, Astra-Zeneca, and the ‘Iranian’ vaccine. The western hegemony of medicine drills the names of their products into our heads while ascribing everything else to the rigidity of its nationality.
It’s a football field as some countries legitimize some vaccines and ban others.
But all for what? Profit.
Rather than allowing central governments to act on the behalf of populations, the free market is in control of who gets the vaccine, where and when.
Let’s start from point A. International patent laws give corporates the right to withhold ‘recipes’ – or essentially hoard technologies that could be shared to allow countries to produce life-saving medicine, which in this case is the vaccine. In the rush to produce the vaccine, India and South Africa lodged a proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to, at least temporarily, suspend laws and get corporates sharing their recipes. The proposal was backed by 55 countries in the African Union.
Although the proposal was backed by many countries around the world, Pfizer commented, calling it “nonsense”; AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline refused to participate, and the director of a Big Pharma lobbying group said he was “too busy.”
What are the repercussions of this?
Not vaccine shortage, but rather a surplus that corporations are not willing to share with developing countries – or, as many like to call it, vaccine apartheid. More than 75% of the 6 billion doses of vaccines were sent to only 10 countries, whereas developing countries were left to the leftovers, vaccinating only 0.5% of their populations.
By the end of 2021, developed countries will have had a surplus of 1.2 billion doses, with 12 billion doses being produced in total. When these figures were announced, Covax publicized that it will miss its target by over 500 million vaccines in 2021. Covax is the mechanism through which, supposedly, vaccines are to meet the 4 corners of the planet. However, that is not the case.
Amnesty International accused corporations of being behind a humanitarian crisis. The human rights organization contended that Pfizer and BioNTech delivered nine times more vaccines to Sweden than to developing countries.
Procreate? In this weather?
Studies show that deciding to have a baby is highly correlated with optimism of the future – and, the opposite is true. For instance, in the United States, according to the Brookings Institute, 300,000 babies were not born in the US due to feelings of insecurity as a result of the pandemic. China, which has broken its one-child policy a while back, has also encouraged having not two but three children in May to mitigate its replacement rate, which is 1.6 (for a country to fully replace its population, it must have a rate of 2.1; the US stands at 1.6).
Australia, too, has seen its first significant decline in its birth rate since 1916, attributing the decision to border closure and migration as per the central bank. In comparison with the 1.7% population growth pre-pandemic, the central bank forecasted only 0.2% growth in the twelve months which have ended in June 2021.
Iran has been experiencing some significant decline too: Saleh Ghasemi, head of the Center for Strategic Research on Population in Iran, contended that Iran is experiencing a deficit of 550,000 births yearly. While Iran enjoyed a fertility rate of 6.5 in the mid-1980s, Iran’s fertility rate has landed at 1.6 in 2021.
With this decrease in fertility, as per a study published by the Lancet in 2020, there are around 23 countries that are bound to have their populations slashed by 50% as of 2100, including Japan, Thailand, Spain, and Ukraine. As of January 2021, the number of births declined by 20% in Spain, 10.3% in Russia, and 13.5% in France.
Many aren’t sure if this is a short-term trend that will change eventually, but the numbers don’t lie: It’s not peculiar to observe that when a couple decides not to have a child, they’re most likely to end up not having a child at all.
Other countries have different experiences: In Lebanon, for instance, the fertility rate remained relatively stable in 2019 through 2021, with not much threat of being under the replacement baseline.
Africa, for instance, enjoys the highest fertility rates. According to the Population Reference Bureau, 46% of the world population under the age of 15 is in Africa, which constitutes the highest fertility rate in the world: 4.268 births per woman, which, naturally, has decreased from some 4.6 in the previous years.
With such numbers falling year by year, society will have to reorganize. Professors and experts have described these numbers as “jaw-dropping,” which sends a message that as societies shrink, and demographics shift, careers, family dynamics, public and foreign policies will not remain the same.
Economic activity slowed down around the globe; fewer people were using cars, shops closed down, flights halted, and facilities slowed production. The demand for oil and petrol significantly decreased as the oil supply increased, leading to plummeting oil prices as a result.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), oil demand decreased by 30% between 2019 and 2020, witnessing a stark decline since 1995.
With time, the impact of COVID-19 on global oil demand started to become apparent, especially in March 2020. Calls to cut production were also on the rise, but some OPEC+ members, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, did not act. As prices started to collapse, OPEC+ issued a decision on the 12th April 2020, to cut oil production by a quarter for the coming two months. This was the largest cut in history.
The oil crisis largely highlighted developed countries’ high dependency on oil, especially countries whose GDP largely depends on the oil sector, their main source of revenue. In March 2020, the IEA estimated that Iraq, Nigeria, and Angola may see a 50-80% drop in their net income 2020.
Hopes of at least some economic recovery, have been high, but all that doesn’t matter in front of the threat of the new variant, Omicron. Oil anxieties are up once again.
With the announcement of the Omicron variant in November, oil prices dropped 10% on November 26.
Spectators anticipated the OPEC+ meeting on December 2nd, expecting an announcement that oil production cuts will spill into January 2022.
"We expect the OPEC+ alliance will suspend its scheduled 400,000 b/d increase for January at its meeting next week. This would buffer the market from headwinds to demand, such as renewed travel restrictions as a new wave of the pandemic hits Europe and the US. This would see the market in deficit in Q1," ANZ's Martin and Hynes said.
However, that was not the case. Despite warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) that the Omicron variant should be taken more "seriously,” OPEC+ expects Omicron to have a short-lived and mild impact on oil production, and that demand for oil in the first quarter of 2022 is expected to be 99.13 million barrels per day – an estimate up 1.11 million BPD from the set prediction in November.
The December 2 meeting concluded that the oil producers will go on to increase production by 400,000 barrels per day in January.
The shadow pandemic & family dynamics
There has been a pandemic within a pandemic – not that domestic violence and abuse have ceased to exist, but cases have significantly exacerbated during the spread of the virus.
Many reasons can be attributed to why the numbers have increased: Pandemic stress could be aggravating intimidation and violence among abused men, more women and men are spending more time simultaneously under one roof, fewer women can seek refuge because of the lockdown, and so on.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, around 33% of women around the world experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. In 2020, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, domestic violence cases increased 25% to 33% around the world. In the United States alone, intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes, and around 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are subject to intimate partner violence.
In Lebanon, in a study published by UN Women, more than half of all respondents, male and female, reported that women face an increased risk of violence from their husbands. Over one-third of the respondents in the study reported feeling unsafe in their homes, regardless of age group. As one can guess, low education levels are correlated with increased risks and feelings of unsafety, and vice versa.
Furthermore, more than 33% of survey respondents, both male, and female, reported witnessing violence or knowing a woman who has experienced any type of violence since the spread of COVID-19.
Femicide in Europe
Women killed and burnt alive in France and Sweden are two events that haunted the headlines in Europe. In Spain, today, one woman is killed every three days. In Belgium, 13 women had died between the end of April 2021 to June 2021, in comparison to 24 in the entirety of 2020. In France, 56 have been killed in the first half of 2021 in comparison with ‘just’ 46 for the same period a year earlier, according to NGO statistics.
Lockdowns in Europe restricted many women from seeking refuge and voicing their grievances. Spain, within its lockdown which lasted 3 months from the start of the pandemic, witnessed a 58% increase in appeals for help compared to 2019, and a 458% increase in “silent” or online appeals where victims ‘fearfully’ cry for help.
The Film industry
In 2020, entertainment and theatre industries were impacted by the onset of the virus. Theatres and production studios closed down temporarily, and consumers were forced to stay at home.
Naturally, movie theaters have posed a risk for Coronavirus as they gather many people, up to hundreds, in one closed area. Before the pandemic, online streaming was impacting film production, distribution and consumption.
According to Statista, in 2019, the global Box office revenues amounted up to $42 billion, which is an all-time high over the years. That number significantly decreased in 2020 to $12 billion. Cinema contributes heavily to the US economy: Hollywood pays 2 million jobs and supports 400,000 businesses, which comprise a substantial portion of the US economy.
The pandemic has decreased box office revenues not only because one cannot spend their Saturday night at the cinemas, but also because movie financing has become a lot more risky due to the higher insurance and health security costs.
In 2021, global Box office revenue forecasts are up 80% ahead of 2020, $21.6 billion. China, which comprises some 34% of the global box office in 2021, also witnessed an increase in its revenues, hitting $7.3 billion.
Big studios sought solutions to quarantine and entertainment demands. Disney, Universal, Warner Bros., Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have provided new streaming video services, allowing viewers to access video entertainment from a multitude of screens and providers.
The global theatrical and home-mobile entertainment market revenue in 2020 amounted to $80.8 billion, which is the lowest annual revenue since 2016, and is 18% less than 2019.
Theatre, in 2019, constituted 43% of the total global entertainment revenue, in comparison to a meager 15% in 2020.
Digital entertainment, however, witnessed a 31% boom, seeing a revenue of $61.8 billion.
Fewer TV programs and movie releases were witnessed in 2020: There was a 66% decline in movie releases from 2019 to 2020; movie productions declined by 45%. Many film release dates were moved to 2021 as a result.
Arms sales up
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think tank, reported an increase in arms sales in 2020, in comparison with previous years. Arms in 2021 amounted to $531 billion.
While most global industries experienced negative effects because of the pandemic, the arms and weapons industry is one of the very few unaffected. It seems that murder business is a never-dying one.
SIPRI’s Top 100 arms companies realized a 1.3% increase in arms sales between 2019 and 2020. Globally, although the global economy contracted 3.1% in the first year of COVID-19, arms sales were going up, especially among US companies.
US companies accounted for 54% of the Top 100’s cumulative arms sales – 41 of those companies, including Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, collectively account for $285 billion of the sales, which is a 1.9% increase from 2019. On the eastern side, Chinese companies account for 13% of all sales, up 1.5% more than 2019. Among the list, 7 British companies have increased their arms sales about 6.2% and German companies are up 1.3%.
Contrary to what mainstream media has been trying to propagate, surprisingly, Russian arms sales are seeing a decline for the third year in a row. The 9 Russian companies on the Top 100 list, collectively, amount to a 6.5 per cent decline between 2019 and 2020. Russian weapons companies make up 5% of all weapons sales.