The news stories of 2021 brought with them a mix of emotions. While some made us feel proud of the enterprising spirit of the human race, others made us worry about our future.
This year’s biggest news stories included the return of hope in the world’s oldest democracy and its disappearance in one of the most devastated nations in the globe. Not to forget that the COVID-19 pandemic reared its nefarious heads in a more dangerous form in some parts of the world.
From the world of politics, science and space technology to natural disasters and coups, these were the stories that not only have a local impact but will also leave a footprint on developments in the near future.
A look at some of the biggest news stories of 2021
6 January: Storming of the US Capitol
Supporters of the former US President Donald Trump laid a siege on the US Capitol following his defeat to Joe Biden in the US Presidential elections 2020.
At the time of the attack, a joint session of the Congress was being held inside the Capitol to validate the results of the elections. The rioters assaulted security officials, looted offices and vandalised the Capitol.
Five people, including Officer Brian Sicknick, died in the attack. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) called the Capitol siege an act of “domestic terrorism.”
The rioters were exhorted by Trump, for which he was impeached by the House of Representatives. Although Trump was acquitted by the Senate, he became the first US President to be impeached twice.
20 January: Joe Biden becomes US President, Kamala Harris appointed as VP
Joseph R. Biden, the Democratic Party leader, won the presidential polls in November 2020, in what was one of the most contentious elections in US history. He took oath as the 46th President of the United States on 20 January 2021.
At the event, Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate during the elections, was sworn in as the first woman, first black American, and the first South Asian American vice president of the US.
Singers Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez performed at the inauguration, but the star of the day was National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, whose inspiring poem, The Hill We Climb, made headlines around the world.
Harris had served as US Senator from California before becoming the VP. She was also the District Attorney of San Francisco and the California Attorney General.
Meanwhile, Biden had been vice president during the Obama years from 2008 to 2016.
1 February: Myanmar coup
In a dramatic move that took the world and people in Myanmar by surprise, the powerful military, known as Tatmadaw, seized control of the Southeast Asian country in a coup d’état on the morning of 1 February.
The junta declared that the 2020 general election, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide, was invalid. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the chief of the Tatmadaw, announced a year-long state of emergency. He would later name himself as prime minister.
President Win Myint and Suu Kyi, along with several ministers and other senior officials, were detained by the junta. Protests followed, but the military crackdown was brutal, resulting in the deaths of over 700, including children.
On 6 December, Suu Kyi, who has been kept at an undisclosed location since her detention, was sentenced to two years in prison with close to a dozen charges levelled against her by the military.
13-17 February: Winter Storm Uri cripples parts of North America
An extreme Arctic weather situation crippled life in parts of Canada, the US and Mexico. The ice storm dumped several inches of snow even in areas known for their hot climate.
The US state of Texas was one of the worst affected by the storm because its infrastructure was unprepared to face extreme cold — an unlikely phenomenon for the state. Texas faced a blackout that left around 4.5 million people without power for days. There was no way to keep themselves warm, and people had to boil water for safe consumption.
Over 700,000 more outages were reported from other parts of the US. Some 4.7 million homes and businesses in Mexico were affected by power blackouts. Official estimates suggested in July that at least 261 people lost their lives due to the winter storm in Texas alone.
24 February: COVAX vaccine sharing initiative begins
COVAX, the global vaccination campaign aimed at an equitable allocation of vaccines around the world, starting with the delivery of a batch of 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Ghana.
The COVAX initiative is one of the pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. The initiative is coordinated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the WHO, and key delivery partner UNICEF.
It supports research, negotiates prices and ensures equal access to vaccines for all participating countries. COVAX aims to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.
11 March: First purely digital NFT-based artwork sold at auction
Everydays – The First 5000 Days, an NFT-based artwork by Beeple, an American artist whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, went under the hammer at Christie’s for USD 69 million.
It was the highest price ever for digital artwork and the first purely NFT-based art sold by the auction house. According to Christie’s, the sale of the artwork placed Beeple among the “top three most valuable living artists.”
Its pseudonymous owner, Metakovan, was later revealed as an Indian NFT collector and blockchain entrepreneur Vignesh Sundaresan.
23–29 March: Cargo ship gets stuck in Suez Canal
A 400-metre-long cargo ship named Ever Given ran aground due to strong winds and got wedged sideways in the narrow Suez Canal on 23 March. The ship remained stuck for six days before it could be freed, leading to a “traffic jam” of over 400 ships at either end of the canal.
The blockage had a domino effect on international trade. According to Lloyd’s List, USD 9.6 billion of trade was held up along the waterway each day of the blockage.
The Suez Canal itself lost USD 14-15 million in revenues for each of the days the ship remained stuck. German insurer Allianz estimated the blockage could bring global annual growth down by 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points.
Ever Given was impounded by Egyptian authorities and was allowed to leave after three months and a compensation deal with its owners and insurers.
9 April: Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, dies
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, passed away in Windsor Castle, Windsor, England, just weeks shy of his 100th birthday. Buckingham Palace announced that the Prince died “peacefully”.
According to The Telegraph, “old age” was cited as the cause of death in his death certificate. Prince Philip was the oldest male member of the British royal family and the longest-serving royal consort in British history at the time of his death.
The son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice, Prince Philip was born on 10 June 1921 in Corfu, Greece. He served with the Royal Navy during World War II. When the war ended, he renounced his right to both the Greek and Danish thrones.
In 1947, he married Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II). Together, they had four children — including Charles, Prince of Wales. Prince Philip participated in 22,220 public engagements since the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne in 1952 and retired from official royal duties in 2017.
25 April: Anthony Hopkins and Youn Yuh-jung make history at Oscars
For playing the role of an ageing man, struggling with memory loss in The Father (2020), Sir Anthony Hopkins won the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 93rd Academy Awards held at Union Station Los Angeles and the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
At age 83, he thus became the oldest person to win the best actor award. In March, he became the oldest nominee for the award in Oscars’ history. It was Hopkins’ second Oscar after the best actor award he won in 1992 for The Silence Of The Lambs.
At the same event, South Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung became the first Korean to win an Academy Award for the Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Minari (2020). At age 73, she also became the third-oldest actress to win the award.
5 May: SpaceX successfully recovers Starship prototype for the first time
SN15, a Starship prototype of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, took off from the company’s Boca Chica, Texas, facility to an altitude of about 9.6 km as part of a high-altitude launch.
As planned, its three Raptor engines shut down, and it then started its descent to Earth. Two of the engines restarted just before landing and SN15 made a successful touch down near its launchpad.
It was the first time that SpaceX attained success in recovering a Starship prototype. All past prototypes had been destroyed in landing attempts. The success is a crucial achievement for the company’s Mars plans in which it plans to send humans and cargo to the Red Planet as well as the moon.
31 May: B.1.617.2 variant gets the name Delta
B.1.617.2, a potentially highly transmissible variant of the SARS-CoV-2, was renamed Delta by the WHO in line with its Greek naming system for strains. The variant was first discovered in India in October 2020.
As of 13 December 2021, the Delta variant is the most dominant strain of the coronavirus around the world and had spread to 192 countries by October.
By July, it caused 83 percent of all sequenced cases in the US. It also led to the devastating second wave in India, which started in March. In the next three months between April and June, the second wave resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 people — more than 50 percent of the total deaths in India since the beginning of the pandemic.
The spread of the Delta variant was so rapid that it overwhelmed India’s healthcare system. Shortage of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, vaccines, and other medical needs was reported in parts of the country. As of 13 December 2021, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recorded a total of 475,636 deaths from the coronavirus in India.
13 June: Benjamin Netanyahu is voted out of office
The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, voted 60-59 to give a coalition of parties the right to form a government in the country. This effectively ended the 12-year reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister of the country.
As part of the power-sharing agreement between the coalition parties, Naftali Bennet succeeded Netanyahu as the prime minister for the first two years. Yair Lapid will become prime minister for the remaining two years of the government’s term. The vote also marked the end of the political uncertainty in Israel, which witnessed four snap elections since 2019.
17 June: China sends its astronauts to Tiangong Space Station for the first time
Three Chinese astronauts — Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo — were lifted off on a Long March 2F rocket from Jiuquan satellite launch centre in the Gobi desert for the Tiangong Space Station.
They became the first from the country to enter the station that is being constructed in space by China around 380 km above Earth. The three astronauts entered the space station’s core module Tianhe and gave a military salute to observers on the ground.
The crewed mission was China’s first in five years and the longest at the time, lasting three months. It was followed by a second crewed mission in October. The Tiangong Space Station is the first long-term space station that China is aiming to construct, following the successes of its previous two Tiangong missions.
19 July: Blue Origin takes Jeff Bezos, three others to space
Blue Origin, the spaceflight company of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, scripted history on its first crewed mission by taking the billionaire and three others into suborbital space.
The New Shepard vehicle of Blue Origin took off from the Launch Site One near the town of Van Horn in Texas and went past the Kármán line at 100 km — the globally recognised space boundary. The capsule with the passengers then successfully landed safely back in Texas after completing the planned 11-minute trip.
Accompanying Bezos was his brother, Mark, making the duo the first brothers to reach space. The other two became the oldest and youngest ever to fly to space — 82-year-old aviation icon Wally Funk and an 18-year-old student named Oliver Daemen, whose father paid for the trip thus making him the first paying customer on a suborbital flight. All the records were noted by the Guinness Book.
23 July – 8 August: Delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics held
The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were held after a delay of one year from its scheduled 24 July to 9 August 2020 frame because of the pandemic. It was the first time in history that the Olympic Games were rescheduled.
The Games were held under a set of rules and guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the tournament, including testing and quarantining. No spectators were allowed at the venues as a state of emergency was declared for Tokyo.
New sports were introduced at the Olympics. These included skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing, karate, basketball 3X3 and freestyle BMX. Baseball and softball also made a return at the Tokyo Olympics.
Mixed-gender team events were added to some existing sports. With 39 golds and a total of 113 medals, the US topped the medal tally followed by the People’s Republic of China who won 88 medals, including 38 gold. Japan, which finished third, gave their best ever performance in the Olympics with 27 gold and 58 total medals.
15 August: Kabul falls to Taliban
The Taliban, which was waging a long battle against the elected Afghanistan government and security forces, captured the capital city hours after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
“The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” said Joe Biden a day after Kabul’s fall, acknowledging Washington’s glaring intelligence failure about the Taliban’s advance.
What followed were harrowing scenes of evacuation of the local Afghanistan population. One of the visuals that caught the world’s attention showed helpless Afghans trying to hold on to the landing gear of a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster while it was taking off and then some falling to their deaths.
Since the Taliban took over, women have been forced to wear hijab compulsorily, denied education alongside men and told to stay away from work, besides other restrictions.
Meanwhile, on 30 August, Major General Chris Donahue of US Army 82nd Airborne Division became the last US soldier to leave Afghanistan when he boarded a C-17 out of the country. It brought an end to the US mission in Kabul after two decades, which cost the lives of 6,000 Americans and 100,000 Afghans.
7 September: El Salvador accepts Bitcoin as legal tender
The South American country became the first in the world to accept a cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, as legal tender.
President Nayib Bukele had earlier said that the acceptance of Bitcoin would help a majority of its citizens without “traditional financial services”, besides boosting investment and allowing expat Salvadorans to remit money more effectively.
“We must break with the paradigms of the past. El Salvador has the right to advance toward the first world,” Bukele had said in a statement. The president also said that the government holds 550 Bitcoin, which was worth around USD 26 million at the time.
16 September: SpaceX launches first all-civilian spaceflight
SpaceX created history once again in 2021 with the launch of Inspiration4 — the world’s first spaceflight with an all-civilian crew.
The Crew Dragon capsule, carrying the four-member crew, was lifted off on a recycled Falcon rocket from launch complex 39A NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida, US.
The passengers were tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, geoscientist Sian Proctor, aerospace data engineer Chris Sembroski, and physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux. None of them were professional astronauts. After orbiting the Earth for three days at an altitude of around 575 km, the capsule splashed safely in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast.
5 November: Astroworld tragedy
Ten people, including a nine-year-old, died and around 300 were injured on the first night of the Astroworld Festival because of a crowd surge during a performance by Travis Scott.
The rapper was criticised for not stopping his performance even as the tragedy — one of the deadliest disasters at a concert in the US — unfolded.
A day after the tragedy, Scott tweeted, “I’m absolutely devastated by what took place last night. My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld Festival. Houston PD has my total support as they continue to look into the tragic loss of life. I am committed to working together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need.”
Expressing remorse in a video post on Instagram, he said that he was “devastated” over the incident and that could “never imagine anything like this happening”.
In December, he gave a detailed interview to TV and radio personality Charlamagne Tha God, in which he said that he “didn’t know the exact details until minutes before the press conference.”
“I stopped like a couple of times just to make sure everybody was OK,” said Scott. “I just really go off the fans’ energy as a collective, you know? Call and response. I just didn’t, I just didn’t hear that,” Scott told Charlamagne Tha God.
Yet, he is among the many named in several lawsuits, including one seeking USD 10 billion in damages, following the tragedy. Scott’s name has been dropped from the 2022 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival where he was supposed to perform.
Hero and Featured images: Afghans civilians are evacuated by the US military on 19 August 2021 at an undisclosed location. [Brandon Cribelar/US Central Command Public Affairs/AFP]