In other news ... and there was plenty
Not since the Second World War has a single phenomenon dominated the news worldwide as the Covid-19 pandemic has in 2020. In the United States, a tumultuous presidential election and a wave of protests over racial injustice also drew relentless coverage.
Overshadowed, to an extent, were other dramatic developments. Among them: China’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy; an apocalyptic explosion in Beirut; the shocking helicopter-crash death of basketball icon Kobe Bryant and his daughter.
Some seemingly epic events early in the year now seem distant, such as President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial and the January announcement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — Prince Harry and Meghan Markle — that they were exiting their prominent roles in Britain’s Royal Family. Just a few weeks later came the long-awaited Brexit, Britain’s formal withdrawal from the European Union.
As most of the world battled Covid, armed conflicts broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan and in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Afghanistan’s seemingly endless war dragged on, even as the warring sides warily edged into peace talks. Massive protests challenged the ruling powers in Belarus and Thailand.
Because of past instances of sexual assault and sexual abuse, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein received a 23-year prison sentence and the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection.
Some other major events of 2020:
Iran: The year ended as it began with tensions between Iran and the US inflamed by the killing of a top official. On January 3, a US drone strike killed Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani. Iran responded with a missile attack that injured dozens of US troops in Iraq. In December, a mysterious attack near Tehran killed a nuclear scientist whom the US and others had identified as organising Iran’s effort to seek nuclear weapons two decades ago. Iran blamed that attack on Israel.
Immigration: Throughout 2020, the Trump Administration pushed to extend a wall along the US-Mexico border, even as it implemented immigration policies that outraged human-rights advocates. The targets included unaccompanied children seeking refuge in the US; hundreds were detained in hotels before being expelled. The administration also sought to suspend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme that protects some young immigrants from deportation. But a federal judge ruled that new applications for the programme must be accepted.
Hong Kong: China imposed a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong. The ensuing crackdown on dissent effectively voided China’s pledge to allow the city to maintain rights promised for 50 years after the 1997 handover from British colonial rule. The arrests of leading opposition figures and the expulsion of local lawmakers — prompting the entire opposition camp to resign — led numerous countries to curtail legal co-operation with Hong Kong. The US imposed travel bans and financial sanctions.
Opioids: Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, pleaded guilty to three criminal charges, formally taking responsibility for its part in an opioid epidemic that has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans over two decades. Purdue admitted impeding efforts to combat the addiction crisis. The pleas arose from a settlement that includes $8.3 billion in penalties and forfeitures, but victims’ advocates worried that Purdue’s owners, the Sackler family, might emerge with their fortune largely intact.
Notable deaths: For sports fans worldwide, 2020 was sadly bookended by the deaths of two popular superstars — basketball’s Kobe Bryant, 41, and football’s Diego Maradona, 60. Among those killed along with Bryant in the helicopter crash was his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, herself a promising athlete. Other revered figures who died included US civil rights leader John Lewis, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, and actors Chadwick Boseman and Sean Connery. Many admirers of liberal US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg not only mourned her death, but deplored her replacement by a conservative, Amy Coney Barrett.
Beirut explosion: Lebanon’s capital was devastated in August by one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. A fire detonated a stockpile of nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrates left to rot at a port warehouse. The explosion tore through Beirut, sucking in the air and blowing up homes as windows shattered for miles around. More than 200 people were killed and thousands injured, compounding the woes of a nation already beset by mass protests and economic meltdown.
France-Muslims: The October beheading of a teacher by an 18-year-old Chechen outside Paris, followed by the killing of three people in Nice by a Tunisian migrant, prompted France to declare its highest-level security alert. The attacks came amid a trial over the 2015 massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had published cartoons of Islam’s prophet. The teacher was beheaded for showing the cartoons to his class while discussing freedom of expression — vigorously defended by President Emmanuel Macron. The caricatures and Macron’s stance fuelled calls from Muslim nations to boycott French products; and some French-Muslims resented the security crackdown.
Hurricanes: It was such an historically busy hurricane season that forecasters had to turn to the Greek alphabet after running out of assigned names. In the US, Louisiana took the brunt of the onslaught: three hurricanes and two tropical storms. The worst to hit the state was Hurricane Laura, which swept ashore in August. In November, several Central American countries were ravaged by two Category 4 hurricanes. In Tennessee, an outbreak of tornadoes in March killed 25 people.
Israel-Diplomacy: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scored a diplomatic coup in September by signing historic accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House. It was Israel’s first normalisation deal with Arab countries in more than 25 years. Later, Sudan and Morocco also pledged warmer official relations with Israel. The moves enabled Netanyahu to deliver welcome accomplishments to his electorate while under fire for his handling of the coronavirus crisis and his ongoing corruption trial.
Wildfires: Thousands of wildfires raged throughout the western US, claiming dozens of lives, destroying thousands of homes, and bringing apocalyptic scenes of orange skies and hazardous air. Months before the usual start of the wildfire season, drought, extreme warm temperatures and winds gusting up to 100mph fuelled some of the most destructive blazes in the region’s history. Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and frequent extreme events such as storms, droughts, flooding and wildfires — including massive brushfires that raged for months in Australia.