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

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.

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.

Northern Ireland legalised same-sex marriage.

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

Young and old became household heroes

Second World War veteran Sir Captain Tom Moore smashed his £1,000 goal when he walked 100 laps in his garden and raised £38.9m 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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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