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The virus that shut down the world: 2020, a year like no other

Health facilities around the world, like here in Gaza, were stretched to their limits as the number of cases increased.

As 2020 comes to an end and people around the world try to make sense of how the world has changed, they are faced with one stark and brutal statistic. The number of people who have died after catching COVID-19, is creeping towards the two million mark.



UN News/Jing Zhang
Passengers wearing face masks and disposable ponchos get their passports checked at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand.

Early in the year, international travel was severely restricted, and people like these travelers in Thailand learnt of the importance of PPE, an acronym which quickly entered the global lexicon (which is short for personal protective equipment).



UNDP China
The UN Development Programme in China has supplied critical medical supplies to the Chinese government.

Soon, there were concerns about a global shortage of PPE and the UN supported various countries in the procurement of supplies, including China where the virus first emerged.



UN News/Daniel Dickinson
A dental office in Brooklyn, New York, posts a grim reminder of the changes brought about by the coronavirus.

As COVID-19 took hold, countries and cities across the world entered lockdown with the closure of schools, cultural and sports venues and all non-essential businesses.



World Bank/Sambrian Mbaabu
It’s hoped that downtown areas in cities like Nairobi in Kenya, will recover strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Normally bustling city centres, like the Kenyan capital Nairobi, were eerily quiet as people stayed at home.



UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Delegates in the UN General Assembly hall observe social distancing as meetings get underway during the busiest week of the year at the United Nations

The United Nations did stay open for business across the world, although most of the key events, like the annual meeting of the new session of the General Assembly in New York, did look very different. Only a small number of delegates were allowed into the chamber as world leaders gave their speeches virtually.



MFD/Elyas Alwazir
Social distancing, here seen in Yemen, will need to continue around the world, at least until a vaccine is developed.

Across the world, people were adapting to new social distancing guidelines…..



UNDP Bangladesh/Fahad Kaize
Community workers, supported by the UN, promote coronavirus prevention awareness and distribute hygiene packages among poor urban households in Bangladesh.

…and were reminded about the importance of handwashing as a way to reduce the transmission of diseases.



© UNICEF/Alissa Everett
Two siblings study at home in Mathare slum, Nairobi, Kenya, accessing their lessons on the family mobile phone.

Students who were not able to go to school had to adapt to a new reality and find ways to keep up with their studies.


WFP/Damilola Onafuwa
Women in Nigeria collect food vouchers as part of a programme to support families 
struggling under the COVID-19 lockdown.

While Africa appeared to suffer less from the virus than other continents, at least in terms of absolute infections and deaths, the UN did voice concerns that the pandemic would push millions more into poverty.




IOM/Nate Webb
Health care professionals are working around the clock to provide adequate support to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

Especially important to the UN was supporting refugees and other vulnerable people on the move across the world, such as the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people who have sought shelter across the border in Bangladesh.



University of Oxford/John Cairns
The coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford was shown in trials to be highly effective at stopping people developing COVID-19 symptoms.

Progress has been made, in record time, by scientists developing new effective vaccines against COVID-19 and by the end of 2020, the first people, mainly in developed countries, were being inoculated.


UN Photo/Evan Schneider
A New York City resident advocates for how he thinks the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak should be tackled.

As the world enters 2021, the pandemic is still raging and, after an apparent mid-year lull in many countries, more infections and more deaths are being reported. With more vaccines being rolled out, the international community is being urged to work together to stop the spread and follow science-based guidelines.

For a more detailed picture of how the world looked in 2020, look out for our UN News end-of-year series of special reports, as the year draws to a close.

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