Looking Back on 2020

The pandemic ran through many of our most read articles of the year, ranging from healthcare to data privacy to growing cyber risks.

December 29, 2020
Colorful Digital Billboards reflect to the puddle on the road.

Rarely has a single issue so dominated the political, economic, and social discourse as the pandemic did in 2020. The Oliver Wyman Forum reflected that fact with its coverage. The coronavirus featured in nearly all of our top ten most read articles of the year, including pieces from the front lines of the public health battle and articles examining the virus’s impact on data privacy concerns and the threat it posed to the vitality of big cities.

Topping the list was our conversation with Dr. Marjorie Pollack, deputy editor of the International Society for Infectious Diseases’ alert program ProMED. In “The Doctor Whose Gut Instinct Beat AI in Spotting the Coronavirus,” Pollack described how her deep experience and that of her colleagues helped them identify the threat posed by a pneumonia-like outbreak in Wuhan, China. She was also prescient in cautioning that some countries might not tolerate the kind of strict containment measures like lockdowns and mask-wearing that China employed.

When we published the article on March 5, 2020, official COVID-19 deaths stood at more than 3,300 globally, including 11 in the United States. As the year draws to a close, the global toll is approaching 1.8 million lives, and the US has seen fatalities exceed 3,000 on some recent days.   

Cybersecurity issues captured readers’ attention, reflecting the fact that the sudden shift by corporate employees to working from home greatly increased the potential targets for bad actors to attack. Among the more pernicious trends was a wave of ransomware incidents targeting hospitals. The threat underscored the need for companies, health care institutions, and governmental entities to raise employee awareness of risks like email phishing, tighten controls both in-house and among suppliers, and collaborate with peers and other outside bodies to share intelligence and best practices.

Other most-read articles focused on the pandemic’s wider consequences. We wrote in April about how a six-nation survey we conducted found widespread reluctance to share data except for the purposes of containing COVID-19, and even in that case most people expressed discomfort with the location data sharing required by contact-tracing apps. A separate survey we conducted in June revealed that a significant portion of urban residents in eight countries was considering relocating because of the virus, and that people wanted their governments to prioritize healthcare, internet connectivity, and eco-friendly energy in the wake of the pandemic.

Massive protests after the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis heightened demands for social justice and greater inclusion in the US and many parts of the world. In one of our top ten articles, sociology professor David Smith explained why more men should mentor women in the workplace, and that companies should promote mentoring to attract more people of color. “Fostering a reputation for inclusive workplace and mentoring practices is critical for companies to recruit diverse talent,” he said.

The recent start of vaccinations in many countries has raised hopes that people will begin to regain more normal work and social lives in 2021. Still, governments and companies have much work to do to grapple with the underlying issues of inequality, digital divides and data use, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion. We look forward to promoting a dialogue on those and other pressing topics in the new year.