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Here’s to 2021 – but let’s not forget these smiles that 2020 gave us

Written by on 2 January 2021

A new year could not have come faster. But we have at least some reasons to smile about the one we have gladly bid farewell.

For all its tragedy and misery, 2020 also ignited compassion, creativity and closeness in a world forced apart by coronavirus.

New laws that changed the way we live

Scotland became the first country to give free and universal access to period products.

Meanwhile, the UK vowed to end the tampon tax and has allowed more gay and bisexual men to give blood.

A law was passed to make period products free in Scotland

Denmark passed a law that could help criminalise inaction over stopping climate change.

Finland announced plans to pass laws that give fathers more time with their babies.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - DECEMBER 30: Pro-choice protester waits outside the National Congress as senators decide on the legalization of abortion on December 30, 2020 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The proposal authorizes legal, voluntary and free interruption of pregnancy until the 14th week while allowing doctor's conscientious objection. It is the ninth bill to legalize abortion treated by the Argentine Congress
Abortion in Argentina was legalised on 30 December

Northern Ireland legalised same-sex marriage.

The US gave more protection against LGBTQ employee discrimination. And just days ago, Argentina legalised abortion.

PA REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2020 File photo dated 01/04/20 of Jack Tucker, 7, placing his rainbow in the window of a house in Bedminster, Bristol as the UK continued in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. .
Acts of gratitude and generosity were everywhere

Young and old became household heroes

Second World War veteran Sir Captain Tom Moore smashed his GBP1,000 goal when he walked 100 laps in his garden and raised GBP38.9m for the NHS.

Eight months later, the 100-year-old has broken two Guinness World Records, scored a number one single and been knighted by the Queen.

File photo dated 24/09/20 of Captain Sir Tom Moore, who has said seeing his late wife's struggle with loneliness as she was treated in hospital struck him "right to the heart".
Captain Sir Tom Moore has become a household hero

In another heartening story, England and Manchester United star Marcus Rashford ensured fewer disadvantaged children went hungry in their holidays with a campaign that caused the government to extend free school meals.

Then, the 23-year-old turned to delivering books for children, too.

Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates scoring a goal to make the score 1-0 during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford on December 29, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The match will be played without fans, behind cloed doors as a Covid-19 precaution. (Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)
Marcus Rashford has helped disadvantaged children stay fed

Diversity was delivered

Political views aside, Kamala Harris election as US vice president was a win in the fight for equality. She was the first female and first woman of African-American and South Asian-American descent to get the job.

Kamala Harris said Joe Biden was a 'healer' and 'uniter'
Kamala Harris made history with her election as US vice president

Parasite was the first non-English-language film to score the best picture Oscar and Bong Joon Ho became the first Korean to win best director for the film.

Crayola released a set of crayons with 40 skin tones called Colours Of The World to “authentically reflect the full spectrum of human complexions”.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 10: MAC Cosmetics, Crayola(R), Levi's(R) Kids & more than 70 small businesses partner with STORY at Macy's on Color STORY, where customers will find hundreds of curated products and enjoy engaging community events. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Macy's)
Crayola wanted more children to feel represented when drawing

The environment benefited

In the peak of the pandemic’s first wave, daily global carbon emissions were 17% lower than the same time in 2019.

The quiet roads and cleaner air deserve a place on this list – but they may not last as traffic creeps back up.

PA REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2020 - PA PHOTOGRAPHERS' FAVOURITE IMAGES File photo dated 08/04/20 of an image of Queen Elizabeth II and quotes from her broadcast to the UK and the Commonwealth in relation to the coronavirus epidemic displayed on lights in London's...
The Queen gave a lockdown speech with the words ‘we will meet again’

Healthy habits began

Depending on a person’s job and level of advantage, adapting healthy habits was easier for some.

But for many, time usually spent commuting to offices was replaced with more rest and quality time with loved ones (in person and virtually).

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - APRIL 18: Vegan sushi Chef Alejandro Lucino prepares a roll during virtual vegan sushi workshop on April 18, 2020 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Due to the government-ordered lockdown, some food entrepreneurs and cooking workshops had to find alternatives to keep their business running. (Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)
Industries hit hardest by coronavirus got creative

Locked down residents took up running, baking and cooking – with chefs even sharing cherished recipes.

Famous fitness gurus such a Joe Wicks, known as The Body Coach, livestreamed PE classes to help kids stay healthy, and donated profits to the NHS.

NEWCASTLE UNDER LYME, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 23: Four-year-old Lois Copley-Jones, who is the photographer's daughter, takes part in a live streamed broadcast of PE with fitness trainer Joe Wicks on the first day of the nationwide school closures on March 23, 2020 in Newcastle Under Lyme, United Kingdom. Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread to at least 182 countries, claiming over 10,000 lives and infecting hundreds of thousands more. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Gareth Copley)
Joe Wicks helped young children stay fit throughout lockdown

We harnessed technology

We swapped handshakes with Zoom invites to show that even a pandemic can’t break innate human connection. Menus became QR codes to keep doors open. More books were downloaded.

PA REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2020 File photo dated 22/03/20 of ac hurch parishioner watching a laptop inside Liverpool Parish Church (Our Lady and St Nicholas) in Liverpool, during the Church of England's first virtual Sunday service given by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
Virtual Sunday services became the norm for much of 2020

Everything went digital, from dates, weddings and performances to house-viewing, holidays and landmark conferences.

Some of us became Skype experts and others struggled with mute buttons, but we gave it our best shot.

JAKARTA, INDONESIA - JULY 25 : Dancers members of Sumber Cipta Balet  prepare before participate in a rehearsal of ...To Live To Love To Dance... as virtual ballet performance with social distancing, limited class size, and everyone required to wear masks amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia. July 25, 2020. Sumber Cipta Ballet restarted training sessions after the transitional period of large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) extended by Jakarta...s city administration and will performs as first time of a virtual ballet performance on July 26, 2020. (Jefta Images)
Virtual ballet performances ensured shows went on

Global movements began and difficult conversations were had

A fight for racial justice became a historical global movement after the death of George Floyd in the US.

The world united to protest police violence.

Mental health struggles were shared openly and honestly within and between communities.

PA REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2020 File photo dated 03/06/20 of people take a knee during a Black Lives Matter protest rally at Windrush Square, Brixton, south, London, in memory of George Floyd who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis.
Black Lives Matter protests took place around the world

There were wildlife wins

Kenya’s Amboseli Park reported an elephant baby boom in a conservation achievement.

Argentina saw its first wild-born red and green macaws in 150 years.

A new generation of 200 endangered tadpoles hatched in Chile.

A British Antarctic recording of 58 blue whale sightings suggest the species is returning to South Georgia.

And the Tasmanian devil is back in the bush of Australia’s mainland after 3,000 years.

XXX on July 22, 2016 in Devonport, Australia. The devices are part of virtual fence technology which has been installed along Tasmanian roads to help protect threatened devils and other wildlife from becoming roadkill, however the company who created them has reported a number being stolen or vandalised in recent weeks. The virtual fence works by emitting a high-pitched noise and flash of light when activated by headlights to scare off animals.
Threatened Tasmanian devils are back in Australia’s mainland

Some diseases diminished

Africa was declared free of polio, a disease that once infected 75,000 African children every year – most younger than five.

The Democratic Republic of Congo saw its last Ebola patient treated as a vaccine was licensed.

The world officially went 40 years without smallpox.

A child reacts as he receives an injection during the nationwide vaccination campaign against measles, rubella and polio targeting all children under 15 years old in Nkozi town, about 84 km from the capital Kampala, on October 19, 2019. - Uganda's Ministry of health with WHO and UNICEF aim to immunize more than 18 million children in Uganda which is about 43 percent of the population during their 5-day vaccination campaign. (Photo by Badru KATUMBA / AFP) (Photo by BADRU KATUMBA/AFP via Getty Ima
Polio was declared eradicated in Africa

Humanity was tested and kindness prevailed

Gathering on balconies and streets to clap for carers and health workers became a weekly ritual of gratitude.

Food parcels were gifted to vulnerable neighbours, schemes to combat loneliness were rife and struggling businesses offered discounts and freebies to frontline workers.

GLASGOW - MAY 28: NHS staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital participate in what is expected to be the final Clap for Carers and key workers during week ten of lockdown on May 28, 2020 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. For 10 weeks, the public have applauded NHS staff and other key workers from their homes at 8pm every Thursday as part of "Clap for Our Carers". Annemarie Plas, the founder of the campaign, has now called for an end to the new tradition, suggesting that an annual clap should take its pla
Clap for Carers became a weekly event

Brilliant brains made momentous gains

In space, NASA launched its most cutting edge rover to Mars and landed a spaceship on an asteroid.

The oldest material found on Earth was discovered to be more ancient than our entire solar system.

Margaret Keenan, 90, who was the first patient in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine, reacts as she talks with Healthcare assistant Lorraine Hill, while preparing to leave University Hospital Coventry, in Coventry on December 9, 2020, a day after receiving the vaccine. - Britain on December 8 hailed a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as it begins the biggest vaccination programme in the country's history
Margaret Keenan, 90, was the first person in the UK to get vaccinated

Tyrannosaur embryos and potential dinosaur DNA were discovered.

And this list is of course not complete without including the world’s collective minds working tirelessly to find a COVID-19 vaccine in record time – paving a pathway out of the pandemic.