The worst year? 2021 around the Pacific
Updated: Dec 27, 2021
We thought 2020 was the worst year ever. We heard it from friends and commentators. We read it on social media. We even said it ourselves. We rushed to leave it behind and welcomed 2021 with optimism. Life was going to be normal again— or so we thought.
We rolled up our sleeves to get our vaccine shots. Ah, we’re all good. The coronavirus was about to be defeated. Then we realized later that 2021 wasn’t any better.
After we opened the doors to Taiwanese tourists, the delta variant came crashing in, bringing the third wave of infections that brought us back to 2020. Guam’s Covid count rose to 19,000, accounting for more than 11 percent of the island’s population. We lost more than 260 people to the merciless virus.
This year, Guam has been a paradoxical spectacle for the nation. It was initially a case study for a successful vaccination campaign and later became a cautionary tale for breakthrough cases.
Local health authorities attributed Guam’s high breakthrough rate to its high vaccination rate. Such a theory that Guam was doomed by its own success added another layer to the pandemic of confusion and heightened skepticism triggered by illogical mandates.
Now comes the still mysterious omicron variant. We do not know what to expect next.
Guam’s sister territory, the CNMI, now has its own public health crisis to grapple with. We used to envy its feat. It successfully contained community transmissions for nearly a year until a cluster emerged to reverse its miraculous Covid-free months.
Elsewhere in our home region, Pacific island states and territories that once boasted of their coronavirus-virgin status are now struggling to battle the ruthless enemy that pushes back their weak economies another decade behind.
Covid-19 aside, the political tumults in 2021 also proved challenging for our neighbor-islands in the home region. This year saw the disintegration of the Pacific Islands Forum resulting from the disenchantment and alienation of Micronesian nations, whose turn to lead the Fiji-based regional bloc was shunned. The Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati are officially leaving the bloc next year.
In Samoa, 2021 is the landmark year for a political revolution. Samoans have been freed from the claws of the Human Rights Protection Party, which ruled the nation for almost four decades under Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi who held power for 22 years. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has assumed the post as Samoa’s first female prime minister.
In September, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States opened a new era of defense by forging a trilateral treaty that seeks strategic advantage in Indo-Pacific. The pact focuses on developing nuclear-powered submarines for the Australian Navy— a plan that hit a nerve in the nuke-battered Pacific region that keeps calling for denuclearization.
In Solomon Islands, the world watched Honiara go up in flames following its own version of the Occupy Movement that disturbed the city’s normally quiet disposition. The riot in the Solomon Islands is the culmination of flashpoints, including the perceived uneven distribution of economic development across the country.
In New Caledonia, the French territory voted, during the third and last referendum on Dec. 12, to remain part of the European country. The political legitimacy of the poll's result, however, remains in question given the Kanak's boycott of the referendum that led to a very low voters turnout.
Around the world, there were more disturbing events that happened in 2021. But history tells us that this year may not be exactly the worst ever. There was the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, the Great Depression in 1929 and World War II. But most of us who are alive today didn’t live through any of those years and thus were untouched by their impact.
Sometimes when we say “worst,” we may simply be talking about the petrifying unfamiliarity of what’s in front of us.
On the bright side, Guam received more Covid-relief money from the feds.
The new year always offers good cheer and comfort. In this issue’s cover story, CJ Urquico likens 2021 to “the intro into a show that is being binge-watched. The viewer is inclined to press the ‘skip intro’ button to move on to 2022.”
In closing, CJ wrote: “Along with the rest of the world, the island learned a collective truth in the past two years—that the only thing for sure is uncertainty.”