Year Two of an ongoing pandemic meant a strange, disorienting 12 months, with widespread uncertainty and a society in disconnect. Plenty of good positivity was to be found in the medical sector, though, as well as a medal rush in sports and the return of prudence to the White House, giving us something to look back on with gleeful satisfaction.
1. Games On
The delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics saw the SAR send its second-largest delegation in history. The 46-strong contingent had a spectacular run across the 17-day affair, and clinched a whopping six medals – three bronze, two silver and one historic gold from fencer Edgar Cheung’s lightning ripostes. Pool queen Siobhan Haughey, who nabbed the two silvers for the 100m and 200m freestyle events, raced to the fastest-ever time for the latter event in December’s 2021 World Championships, giving us reasons to cheer as the year came to its close.
2. Malaria Miracle #1
In October, the World Health Organisation (WHO) approved the first-ever malaria vaccine for children. The mosquito-borne disease kills nearly 650,000 people a year, and is the leading cause of childhood illnesses and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus celebrated this breakthrough by saying: “This is a historic moment… Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”
3. Malaria Miracle #2
Another malaria-related win came from China, which has officially been declared free of the infectious disease following a concerted, decades-long battle. It’s a far cry from its zenith during the ’40s, when an estimated 90 percent of the population were at risk of infection, and some 300,000 Chinese deaths were recorded annually.
4. Green City to Watch
Santa would have had plenty of scenic landing spots in Basel last month. The Swiss city scaled the heights in 2021 as the first in the world to make green roofs mandatory on new buildings. The move – which marks a concerted effort to combat rising CO2 levels and global warming – has already resulted in the construction of more than one million square metres of elevated green spaces.
5. Premier Preemie
Curtis Means, who was delivered a staggering 19 weeks before full term, became the world’s most premature baby to survive. His mother, Michelle Butler, was rushed to hospital in Alabama on American Independence Day, and gave birth to twins – Curtis, who weighed less than half a kilogram, and sister C’Asya, who sadly passed away a day later. The Guinness World Record-holding baby was discharged from hospital after a lengthy 275-day stay, and is now a thriving toddler.
6. Animal Magic #1
After a campaign spearheaded by Humane Society International (HSI) – a global organisation dedicated to combatting animal cruelty – and other animal welfare groups, Mexico announced a full ban on animal testing in the production of cosmetics last September. It is the first North American nation to pass such a bill, though 40 other countries have imposed similar restrictions, which also outlaw the importing and marketing of any products tested on animals.
7. Animal Magic #2
Thanks to concerted efforts by wildlife conservation groups and governments around the globe, multiple animals who were on the verge of extinction have made a triumphant comeback. These include China’s beloved giant pandas, four species of Atlantic tuna and European bison and wolves. Elsewhere, coral reefs – so crucial to the world’s ecosystem – have received a much-needed boost thanks to a new batch of ‘coral babies’ that were birthed this past year.
8. Blind Hope
Helping the blind see again is no longer just a pipedream, thanks to the new Moran | Cortivis visual prosthesis jointly developed by US and Spanish researchers. Via a tiny brain implant and camera, its first patient, Berna Gomez – a former science teacher who has suffered from blindness for 16 years – was able to see letters, discern object shapes and even play a video game. Speaking of the breakthrough, lead researcher Eduardo Fernandez said: “We have taken a significant step forward, showing the potential of these types of devices to restore functional vision.”
9. Trumped and Gagged
Former United States President Donald Trump was notorious for his incendiary tweets and Facebook posts. Following the infamous Capitol Hill attack in January, Twitter – Trump’s main mouthpiece – permanently suspended him from the platform ‘due to the risk of further incitement of violence’. Sensible people everywhere breathed a hefty sigh of relief. His eviction from the White House after five years of divisive leadership was a cause for celebration for many, too.
10. Jab for Joy
Trumping the year’s many other medical marvels was undoubtedly the success of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. Pharmaceutical companies had raced to create an effective vaccine for Covid-19 from the outset of the pandemic, and in 2021, these efforts yielded major results: some 3.63 billion people (roughly 46.6 percent of the world’s population) are now fully vaccinated. Though Omicron – and the possibility of more new variants on a similar scale – remains a real concern, there’s no denying that this is the first major advancement to defeating the virus. Since 2021 has brought us one step closer to the return of normal life, then we are right to crack open the Champagne as we welcome 2022.