As of 16 September, the novel coronavirus had killed more than 941,000 people globally, with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide reaching more than 29.8 million. It has also had profound effects on most aspects of daily life, culture and society. Here, we take a look at some of the events and activities postponed, delayed or cancelled as a result of the virus...
Surgery and operations
As the pandemic reached its peak in the UK, the main priority was to make way for incoming Covid-19 patients to reduce overcrowding and limit deaths from the disease. While this was successful in the short term, helping the NHS to deal with the immediate challenge, it led to a huge number of postponed and cancelled medical treatments.
The NHS postponed all non-urgent elective operations for at least three months, leading to a large backlog of cases that now has to be dealt with. Similar moves were taken in other countries. According to a study published in the British Journal of Surgery, worldwide, approximately 28 million elective surgeries will be cancelled or postponed in 2020 as a result of Covid-19 disruption. In the UK, the decision taken to postpone all non-urgent elective operations for at least three months was estimated by researchers at the University of Birmingham in May to result in 516,000 surgeries being cancelled.
Cancer care is a particular area of concern. Postponement of surgeries may have already had a significant impact on mortality rates. A study titled ‘Collateral damage: the impact on outcomes from cancer surgery of the COVID-19 pandemic’ suggested that a surgical delay of three months over one year could result in 4,755 excess deaths, with patients who may have been effectively cured by surgery at an earlier point now at a higher risk.
Meanwhile, the postponement of non-life threatening, but still life-changing surgeries is likely to increase distress and anxiety among affected patients. The charity Breast Cancer Now has warned that more than 1,500 breast cancer patients in the UK face long waits to have reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy, due to the fact that hospitals could not operate on them during the pandemic. The charity says women are facing delays of ‘many months, possibly years’ because the NHS has such a big backlog of cases to get through. The NHS started performing reconstruction again in July, but not everywhere and not in the same numbers as before. ‘We are deeply concerned by our finding that over 1,500 breast cancer patients may now face lengthy and extremely upsetting delays for reconstructive surgery,’ said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of Breast Cancer Now. ‘This will leave many women who want to have reconstruction with one breast, no breasts or asymmetric breasts for months, possibly even years.’
Film and TV
The list of films and TV series postponed due to the pandemic is a long one. High profile postponements include Disney’s Doctor Strange sequel; Marvel’s Black Widow; both upcoming Mission Impossible films; the new James Bond, No Time to Die; Wonder Woman 1984 and the Candyman reboot. Tech site Cnet predicts that the ripples will be felt throughout 2021 and beyond, with the Avatar sequels and the next Star Wars movies all affected
Research firm Ampere Analysis has projected that the pandemic delayed at least 60 per cent of scripted television programming worldwide, including at least half of the programming originally scheduled to air in the second half of 2020.
In June, research firm Oxford Economics warned that in the UK: ‘The TV and film sector is facing 100,000 job cuts and “cultural catastrophe”’. Despite the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the report forecast the loss of 406,000 creative sector jobs overall, almost ten times the workforce of British Airways.
The UK government has responded to this threat. On 28 July, the Culture Secretary announced the launch of a Government-backed £500m scheme for UK film and TV productions struggling to get insurance for Covid-related costs. The Film and TV Production Restart Scheme is designed to help productions across the country that have been halted or delayed by an inability to obtain insurance for Covid-19 related risks to get back up and running, by ‘giving productions the confidence they need that they will be supported if future losses are incurred due to Covid-19’. The scheme has been welcomed, though on 8 September Screen Daily reported that independent producers had raised concerns that the scheme was not yet open for applications, almost six weeks after it was unveiled.
The Olympics, football & tennis
The biggest postponement of the year in the sporting world was of course the Olympic Games.
The Games, originally due to kick off on 24 July were postponed by 12 months in March. The rescheduled event is now set to take place from 23 July 2021 but a decision on if and how many spectators will be able to attend may not be taken until 2021. Capacity at professional sports events in Japan is currently limited to a maximum of 5,000.
Organisers say the Games will go ahead regardless of developments in the pandemic. The chair of the Games co-ordination commission, John Coates, said in an interview that the event would go ahead ‘with or without Covid-19’.
In football, almost all major men’s leagues had delayed start dates but are mostly now running behind closed doors. The Euro 2020 tournament has been postponed until 2021, while the African Nations Championship 2020 tournament scheduled for April in Cameroon has been postponed indefinitely.
The women’s football league in England was originally cancelled, leading to some criticism that Covid-19 would push women’s sport back. Former England and Arsenal defender Alex Scott commented that women’s sport had taken a ‘back seat’ because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Women’s Super League eventually restarted in September.
The International Tennis Federation announced that 900 tournaments across all its circuits had been postponed and that it was furloughing half its staff. President David Haggerty voluntarily took a 30 per cent salary cut for the rest of the year. The 2020 Wimbledon tennis championships have been cancelled. It is the first time the championships, due to take place between June 28 and July 11, have been called off since World War II.
Numerous religious festivals, celebrations and pilgrimages have had to be scaled back due to the virus. One of the biggest was the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca which took place on 28 July. About 12 million people usually visit Mecca in Saudi Arabia each year. This year however just 1,000 carefully screened pilgrims were allowed to attend the Hajj. Some 70 per cent of the worshippers were foreign residents of Saudi Arabia, with the rest being Saudi nationals. All of those selected to take part were aged between 20 and 50.
Saudi Arabia has banned overseas visitors since the end of February, meaning that thousands wishing to perform umrah, a pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time of year, have also been affected by the ban.
Other pilgrims around the world have found their path barred. On the 18 September it was reported that 2,000 Orthodox Jews were being blocked by armed guards from entering Ukraine for an annual pilgrimage to a rabbi’s grave, creating a makeshift camp at the country’s border with Belarus. The grave is that of Rabbi Nachman, the great-grandson of the founder of the Hasidic movement, who died in 1810. The pilgrims, from countries including France, the US and Israel, had attempted to bypass the Covid restrictions by traveling via Belarus.
In the UK, places of worship are excluded from the ban on gatherings of more than six people, meaning religious services can still take place, albeit with restrictions. The Church of England has released advice to churches indicating that ministers should not speak over uncovered ‘consumables’ such as the bread and wine usually distributed during communion. ‘For the time being we encourage the use of individual communion wafers or bread that has already been divided rather than large wafers or loaves of bread that are broken and shared,’ states the organisation’s website.
Last weekend (18th-20th September) was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In Israel, the usually busy streets began to empty on Friday as the country imposed its second national coronavirus lockdown – the first advanced country to do so. Israel currently has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the world. In the past week, new cases have reached daily highs of more than 6,000, and the country’s leaders have apologised for their failure to contain the pandemic.
With all eyes on the pandemic, a raft of political developments deemed less urgent have taken a back seat – environmental legislation among them.
On 15 April, Defra confirmed that due to the ongoing pandemic and subsequent disruption to businesses, the UK ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds would be delayed until October.
The UK Government also suspended its 5p plastic bag fee – introduced in 2015 – for online supermarket deliveries during the pandemic. Tesco said online sales for delivery rose by 48.5 per cent in the three months to 30 May.
At the start of the outbreak coffee shops in the UK temporarily banned reusable cups, resulting in more than 100 scientists publishing an open letter on 22 June, insisting that reusable containers are safe to use if basic hygiene is employed. Starbucks and others have since reversed the ban.
Many other government activities have been put on hold. The Joint Air Quality Unit – the central government team tasked with delivering plans to tackle illegal air pollution – announced that it was working with local authorities to delay the implementation of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) across the country until ‘after the Covid-19 outbreak response’. CAZs aim to deter the most polluting vehicles from entering the most polluted parts of towns and cities. According to ClientEarth, CAZs were due to be implemented in Birmingham, Leeds and Bath this year, but the latest words from central government suggest that these will be delayed until at least January 2021. Additionally, the Congestion Charge, Low Emission Zone and Ultra Low Emission Zone in London have all been suspended until further notice and a tightening of standards for the Low Emission Zones, due in October, has been pushed back.
At the EU level, some policies were delayed by a few weeks, however in May 2020, the European Commission released the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 . According to WWF, this strategy, along with the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, is a potential game changer for EU nature, food and farming policies. The strategies propose a new wave of targets on topics such as protected areas, restoration of nature, organic farming and the reduction of agricultural chemicals.
Some EU countries have used the virus to call for a lowering of environmental targets. In March, Euractiv reported that the Czech premier called on the EU to ditch its landmark green law seeking carbon neutrality as it battles the novel coronavirus. The same month, a senior Polish official reportedly said that the EU should scrap its Emissions Trading System or exempt Poland from the scheme, to free up funds for Warsaw to fight the effects of the coronavirus.
Officials at the European Commission however have said that neither of these things will happen. ‘The long-term work on the Green Deal continues in parallel to the coronavirus firefighting and continues to be one of the priorities as well,’ said Vivian Loonela, EU Commission spokesperson for the European Green Deal.
The other big postponement in the environmental world is Cop26. The negotiations aimed at fulfilling the Paris climate agreement were to be hosted by the UK this November, but have been rescheduled to take place next November. It remains uncertain whether countries grappling with the Covid crisis can be encouraged to agree to stricter targets on greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, the virus presents a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance to accelerate progress on emissions targets. It’s 196-page annual progress report, published in June, highlighted a lack of progress by the government over the past year towards delivering the UK’s climate goals. According to the report, the UK has failed on 14 out of 21 progress indicators and just two of 31 key policy milestones have been met over the past year.
Chris Stark, the CCC’s chief executive told Carbon Brief that the year-long delay to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow is an ‘absolute blessing’ for the UK as it gives the country more time to reach targets. ‘They are going to have egg on their face unless they get this year right.’
All nations are being asked to come forward this year with strengthened plans on curbing their emissions by 2030, preferably with a view to net-zero emissions by 2050, or soon after in the case of the developing world.
In response to what they deem meagre progress, young activists in the Fridays for Future movement are pushing ahead with their own online event this November, called Mock Cop26.