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2020 — the year that should have never happened

Disclaimer: Everything written is based on my personal experience and only express my point of view. Unlike the people who are abusing others for not wearing masks or any other similar reason, I am not trying to force my opinion on the others. I think that everyone should be able to express their opinion freely, as this is the only healthy way for people to be able to understand the others. As our rights, our access to information has been greatly limited due to censorship of alternative opinions. However, they are still as important because they show what people struggle with. They also allow for people to justify themselves.

2020 was the first year I had not made any plans for in advance. I did not have any expectations, neither I knew what was going to happen. I am not going to write about the emergence of COVID — we are all familiar with that part.

On March 23, England was put into full lockdown. For people like me, this was the worst thing that could ever happen. For those who do not know me well — I am very active and I need hours of physical activity per day, to feel well. When I feel down, I travel around and walk as much as I can. When it comes to working, I am the most productive when working away from home (for example, either at the University library or at a café). For 22 years, I have never done any work at home. In general, I only stay at home to shower and sleep. The unwillingness to spend time at home is even greater when living in a small box, a.k.a. student accommodation. Having said that, the 3-month lockdown was an absolute catastrophe. The only positive thing I can think of is that it was during the Spring and daily exercise was allowed, so I could walk around.

Alongside the lockdown, many phenomena started to greatly disturb me. I have been following all daily U.K. coronavirus briefings. I have also been reading information regarding Coronavirus from all sources possible. Not just the government-controlled ones. While governments were trying to limit people’s freedom by using sophisticated social engineering, it very quickly became apparent that people are fully inclined to give up on their fundamental human rights. This fact has been haunting me daily ever since and is, what I believe, the worse consequence of the pandemic.

Before continuing, I feel I need to clarify few things. This is because the media has been portrayed people who want to live normal lives as people who believe that 5G causes the virus, that COVID does not exist in the first place and other similar ideas. This is a powerful tactic to discredit alternative to the enforced opinions. However, while there are people who believe in such ideas, they are the minority. I know that COVID exists. As a software engineer, I also know that 5G does not cause the virus.

While I believe in COVID, there are many reasons why I am sceptical to believe that the situation is as bad as they want us to believe it is. While I will not be able to list them all, I wanted to highlight some of them. Some of the reasons are related to the extreme actions that were taken around the world. In some countries, like my home country, Bulgaria, full lockdown was imposed when the second death occurred. We have seen other pandemics in the past, caused by viruses with similar death rates, when no actions at all were taken. All of the sudden, authorities became very concerned about the people’s health, even if they have failed to act on key issues that have been causing deaths for years (such as the poor air quality in Bulgaria). Other reasons which make me question the severity of the situation is the total censorship on all medias and online services. Videos, made by doctors, exposing real statistics about COVID and the relative risk it has to other illnesses, were taken down from YouTube for violating “community guidelines”. Facebook and Twitter started deleting posts expressing alternative opinions, as well as events organised against the harsh measures enforced around the world. We have also seen periods with mass protests — Black Lives Matter around the world, as well as 2020-2021 Bulgarian protests against corruption which have been ongoing for more than 190 days. None of these resulted in a spike in the infections, even if thousands of people attended these events. Finally, police have been dispersing all COVID-related protests around the world, even if they were all completely peaceful. Again, the right to protest and the right of freedom of speech were trampled.

With all the restrictions, the governments have caused a long list of issues. Most of them are currently leading to a disaster much worse than COVID. I am focusing on the U.K. and Bulgaria, however, I am sure that the same is true for every other place. All these issues will have a great impact on every one of us, no matter if you believe that our lives should be all spent in a lockdown or if you want to continue living a normal life.

A major issue is obviously the economy. Many businesses are dying out. This causes unimaginable distress to the owners who have been building them with years. Even a small coffee or a barber shop can be everything for a person who have invested all they have in pursuing their dream career. Apart from the economic losses, this also cause health-related issues. The excessive stress and mental health issues are preconditions for the development of life-threatening conditions. While big companies have found opportunities to thrive, small businesses have different faith. While the U.K. has had a generous support schemes, Bulgaria did not. Again, directly tied to the high level of corruption, all money, intended for COVID relief, were distributed to companies who are managed by people close to the ones in control.

Another issue is related to education. As a student, this is quite important for me. I will move to Universities in a bit, but I first wanted to set the scene by describing the situation in Bulgaria. Basically, when it comes to education, Bulgaria has been coming last in the EU for the past decade. I am sure that there are many complex factors for that, including the culture and the educational program. Anyway, I went to school in Bulgaria, and I know what the average level is. I am also fully aware about the level of education at the Bulgarian universities. The online learning was the last nail in the coffin for the education of the youngsters in Bulgaria. Students were not engaged even when education was in person, let alone online. The low level of education allows for students to progress between grades virtually without doing anything. The educational crisis is now accelerating rapidly which will have consequences for everyone. I do not have to list them all — everyone hard-headed can thing of few examples. These include increase in crimes, poverty, financial deficit, higher unemployment, and many others. All of these are equally threatening for all countries but are especially bad for the ones which are already in a bad position. When it comes to the Universities in the U.K., I am completely disgusted by the current situation, the lack of support and the complete ignorance of the government, especially when it comes to university students. We were told we should go back to University last September, only to find ourselves locked in our accommodations, having all our lectures online and prevented from accessing any facilities and study spaces. The universities took money for accommodation and course fees but failed to provide what we initially paid for - in-person education of a high-quality. The last year cohort of student was affected by the pandemic for the last two months of their studies, and yet universities gave away degrees via “safety nets”.  While this year some universities noted the need of similar support systems and decided to apply them again, others, including the University of Sheffield, opted out from providing support to the students. The University claims that workload has been decreased and that measures are taken to protect individual’s performance, however, exactly the opposite happened. The workload for modules increased and harsher marking scheme were applied, severely disadvantaging students. Many students have been suiciding because of the situation they have been put in and many others were left worrying for their future.

The restrictions around the pandemic have led to many other problems for many people. If we exclude things such as ruined holidays and plans, I think it is of a vital importance that people should start thinking more about those who suffer from other conditions than COVID. In the past year, we have not seen any deaths caused by flu, cancer, heart attacks, strokes, etc. For the past year, only COVID patients have been treated. Others have been refused access to healthcare. Furthermore, the deaths caused by other illnesses are never shown or considered when lockdowns are being enforced. Few months into the pandemic, I remember reading a forecast on BBC, saying that 30 thousand cancer patients will die in the U.K. alone because of the cancer services being shut. This is half of the official deaths recorded of patients with COVID for the whole year in the U.K. And this is only one illness. If we add all the other ones, many more people will die from other, possibly curable conditions. It is also important to note that the chances of survival of a COVID patient, once in an ICU, are relatively small. We should also be focusing on the mental health issues caused by the redirections and the lockdowns, as they lead to domestic violence, substance abuse, suicides and more.

In 2020 we became more divided than ever. No matter what you believe in, we were all losers. We were, are and will be suffering from the decisions taken by the governments for years to come. We cannot go to the supermarket without fearing a fine or an abuse by a fellow citizen. Many are made to believe that seeing their parents and grandparents will turn them into killers. The scariest part is that the future is dark. The more people are obedient, the more unlikely it is we will return to any sort of normality at all. This must stop.

As I did not have any plans for 2020, I have even less for 2021. To finish off, I want to try to give courage to anyone who is currently suffering. No matter if it is from COVID or the consequences from it. I hope we will manage to find inner peace. In 2020 they divided us and showed us we can be very weak. Now is the time to reunite, stronger than before, and to remind ourselves what are we living for. I hope that 2021 will be our wakeup call and that we will all realise that the only way is the way forward.

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