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Our Favourite Photos of the Apocalyptic Year That Was

Here are some of 2020's most heartbreaking, defining moments from around the Asia-Pacific.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU

Fires, floods, and plague—these were the hallmarks of 2020. The dark dawn of the new decade will mark a pivotal historic moment in more ways than one. It was a year of compounding disasters and tragedies; a year in which the world felt, on numerous occasions, like it was coming to a dystopian end. And now that year is finally over.

As 2021 beckons before us it’s worth taking a moment to pause and reflect on one of the most turbulent 12-month periods in recent memory.


Australia was among the first countries to usher in 2020, as one of the largest wildfires in the Earth’s history swept across the country, spewing smoke that enveloped neighbouring New Zealand. Just hours later, Indonesia commenced the year amid devastating floods in the capital of Jakarta, killing at least 66 people and displacing some 60,000.

Looking back now, it’s easy to interpret these Biblical disasters as the first ominous warning signs of a year marked by tragedy. But the seeds of 2020’s most devastating calamity had already been sown. 

By the end of December 2019, at least 27 people in Wuhan, China had been diagnosed with a novel coronavirus that, within 12 months, would touch every country in the world, infecting more than 73 million people and killing more than 1.6 million. Borders were closed, planes were grounded, roads and streets were emptied as people shut themselves away in state-enforced isolation, and the collective noise of humanity’s seismic activity quietened to the lowest level on record.

This eerie “wave of silence” was countered, however, by the roar of collective action, as millions of people around the world mobilised against police brutality, racism and encroaching authoritarianism. 2020 was indisputably the year of COVID, yes. But between the global Black Lives Matter movement and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy backlash, it was also a year of sectarian violence and protest.


Many of these issues are ongoing, and will continue to beleaguer societies around the world well into 2021. The suffering isn’t over, but 2020 is, so we’ve compiled some of the most shocking, surreal, heartbreaking and powerful photos from around the Asia-Pacific region to sum up the dystopian year that was.

The following images are from Getty’s Year in Review collection.

Brook Mitchell, Getty Images.jpg

A horse is pictured on the property of Claire and Laurence Cowie. The couple stayed to defend their home, losing the back shed and narrowly saving the house. February 01, 2020 in Canberra, Australia (Photo by Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

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A man navigates through his flooded neighborhood on January 2, 2020 in Jakarta, Indonesia (Photo by Ed Wray/Getty Images)

Ezra Acayan, Getty Images.jpg

A government employee reacts as she is sprayed with disinfectant before entering a government office building to curb the spread of COVID-19 on March 19, 2020 in Pasig city, Metro Manila, Philippines (Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

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Employees eat their lunch while staying 2 meters away from each other at the Dongfeng Fengshen plant on March 24, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China (Photo by Getty Images)

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Pro-democracy supporters scuffle with riot police at a rally in Causeway Bay district on May 27, 2020 in Hong Kong, China (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)


The face of a graduating student is displayed on a tablet attached to a robot during a "cyber graduation" ceremony at a school in Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines on May 22, 2020. Robots represented some 179 graduating students during a graduation ceremony that was streamed online, as mass gatherings were prohibited in the country under a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The robots used tablets to display the faces of the graduating students as they "marched" on stage to receive their diplomas (Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)


Object detection and tracking technology for people not wearing masks is used in Seoul, South Korea on May 26, 2020. SK Telecom developed an autonomous robot to handle disinfection and monitoring duties as part of efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The robot also monitored people's temperatures and checked whether they were wearing face masks. Those not wearing masks were asked to do so by the robot if there were too many people around (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

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A lone woman is seen looking out the window of her apartment at the North Melbourne Public housing flats on July 05, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. Nine public housing estates were placed into mandatory lockdown as authorities worked to stop further COVID-19 outbreaks in Melbourne. The public housing towers were in total lockdown for days following a high number of positive coronavirus cases recorded among residents of those estates (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

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Thai kindergarteners wear face masks as they play in screened play areas used for social distancing at the Wat Khlong Toey School in Bangkok, Thailand on August 10, 2020 (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

Hindustan Times, Getty Images.jpg

Health workers and relatives place the body of a COVID-19 victim on a funeral pyre at Nigambodh Ghat crematorium in New Delhi, India, on November 20, 2020 (Photo by Biplov Bhuyan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Chung Sun-Yun, Getty Images.jpg

A disinfection worker wearing protective clothing sprays anti-septic solution inside a theatre in Seoul, South Korea amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus on July 21, 2020 (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Phil Walter, Getty Images.jpg

A plane flies in to land in the tobacco-coloured skies over Manukau city in Auckland, New Zealand on January 05, 2020. The smoke travelled from Australia, where hundreds of fires burned across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, while the Australian Defence Force was called in to help with firefighting and rescue efforts (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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