Heroes of the coronavirus pandemic
While most of us have spent the coronavirus pandemic in our homes, adapting to a new way of life with masks, social distancing, and business closures, there’s a group of people who lived the pandemic at its most intense. Among them is Anna Travezzano, 39, a nurse at the Humanitas Gavazzeni Hospital in Bergamo, Italy. It’s the end of her shift on Friday, March 27, 2020.
In March, at the height of the outbreak in northern Italy, photographers from the Associated Press went to the hospital and made portraits of its toughest fighters: health care personnel. Their faces, like emergency nurse Luca Tarantino’s, show the imprints of masks and glasses after long, long shifts of hard work.
Heroes don’t always wear capes, we tend to say. They don’t look like the ones in the comic books, although this Spiderman sanitizing the Tha Mai temple suburb of Bangkok, Thailand, comes quite close.
What we do know, is that in this crisis the heroes wear masks. They are doing their jobs as nurses, doctors, paramedics, ambulance drivers, undertakers, firemen and police, but they are working under extraordinary circumstances and risking infection with a mysterious new virus.
Health care staff, like this group at the INS Asvini hospital in Mumbai, India, form close ties with each other. To smoothly operate a full ICU and save lives, coordination is essential. When the history of coronavirus 2020 is written, historian Clare Wright asks, will doctors and nurses then be honoured as heroes, like war veterans?
Among health workers in the hardest hit nations of the global pandemic – China, the USA, the UK, Italy, Spain, and France – medical journal ‘The Lancet’ has estimated a rate of infection with COVID-19 at roughly 20%. Sadly, not all of those infected survive the illness. 'Business Insider' counted over 100 casualties among healthcare personnel across the world as of early May 2020. Hospital staff, like this group in Madrid, has had to say goodbye to colleagues as well as to patients.
Clare Wright, history professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, says that a pandemic may not be a war, “but our healthcare workers are heroes.” She comments in ‘The Guardian’ that Australia’s annual war remembrance, Anzac Day, fell right in the middle of the 2020 pandemic. Many of its ceremonies compared soldiers and doctors to each other. They express a similar kind of bravery, selflessness, and ‘shell shock’ in the midst of a crisis. On the photo: Martina Papponetti, 25, an ICU nurse at the Humanitas Gavazzeni Hospital in Bergamo, Italy.
This time, however, the war is not “over there,” like in World War I, but “right here, in our emergency rooms and nursing homes,” Wright says. “Which begs the question: how will we remember the courage, duty and sacrifice of the army of Covid-19’s frontline workers when the world is well again?” One way to do this, is to document their daily struggles at work. AP photographers Domenico Stinellis, Antonio Calanni, and Luca Bruno made these impressive portraits.
One of the first and most conspicuous health professionals the world lost to the virus was Doctor Li Wenliang from Wuhan, China.
The ophthalmologist warned his colleagues at an early stage about a new, mysterious disease. Chinese authorities reprimanded him for speaking up, the Washington Post reports, and others considered him an heroic whistle-blower. Tragically, Wenliang would later contract the virus himself and pass away.
In dealing with the outbreak in Wuhan, Chinese health care professionals showed an impressive example of hard work and sacrifice, resulting in the relative containment of the virus. With the city of Wuhan open again, it is now time to reflect on what happened during the outbreak and how to move forward.
Heroes of the pandemic are everywhere. They are caring for people who got infected. This photo was taken in Lima, Peru.
They built and ran an immense, provisional hospital of 2,000 beds in the Tehran International Exhibitions complex.
They are meticulously fumigating the streets in La Paz, Bolivia.
They disinfect the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
They take care of homeless people who have no place of their own for a quarantine in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
After everyone else has gone home, they go into the subways and disinfect them as a precaution against the virus. These heroes are in Seoul, South Korea.
All work with the best protection they can find, even though there has not always been enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for everyone.
Passers-by on the streets of Guayaquil assisted in moving coronavirus victims after the Ecuadorian metropolis suffered an intense outbreak in March and April.
Many places had to expand their cemeteries, or build new ones altogether, in cities like Bergamo, Italy; New York, USA; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Tijuana, Mexico (photo).
“It’s as if a storm hit us,” an Italian doctor told ‘The Guardian.’ “The problem is that when this storm hit us we were unprepared, perhaps ignoring what might have been the consequences. Some of the dead were doctors who died at the beginning of the emergency, when we knew nothing about this storm. I knew some of them. Now we are more prepared and we continue to fight.”
Other brave men and women are helping in the effort to soothe the most vulnerable people of this pandemic: the elderly, people with pre-existing medical conditions, and the ones who are lonely in their state of quarantine
This priest and other volunteers distributed the 'holy light' in the week leading to Christian Orthodox Easter in Bucharest, Romania. Worshippers could not join in religious ceremonies due to the pandemic.
The residents of battered cities have shown themselves to be altruistic and emphatic. Here, in Naples, Italy, a solidarity basket serves to share food and other elementary goods between neighbours. “Who can, may put; who cannot, may take.”
Volunteers in Gaza City, Palestine, are making masks for the population with cheerful designs to raise the spirits.
Workers in so-called ‘essential businesses,’ like public transport, agriculture, supermarkets, and pharmacies, continue to do their jobs as usual – only with an extra risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Food deliverers have become the lifelines of people trying to avoid the risky supermarket or accustomed to eating out. They cycle across town and hand over your meals while avoiding any physical contact.
For the many who cannot afford take out or groceries, there are food banks and volunteers running them. This one is in the Tampa Bay area in Florida, USA. The pandemic has led to a crisis and unemployment, causing many people to depend on food donations and volunteers to distribute them.
Those who cannot help on the street, applaud the bravery of essential and healthcare workers every day by making noise from their windows or balconies. Here’s the comedian Sarah Silverman, for example, praising the pandemic's heroes.
The crisis sparked inspiring international help efforts. Here, one of three enormous cargo flights is flying 25 million protective masks from China to Germany.
There are also experts coming in from China, offering extra pairs of eyes and hands to the battled Italian hospitals. They greet Lombardy's vice president Fabrizio Sala as they arrive in Milan. Just imagine, these doctors have just come out of the worst battle against the disease in their own country.
Even royalty rolled up its sleeves. Princess Sofia, a former reality TV star who had no experience in health care whatsoever, took a quick nurse assistance course and is now helping out in the Sophiahemmet Hospital in her hometown Stockholm.
“Thanks to you, we will defeat this virus!” Julia from Milan wrote to the doctors and nurses in the Italian city.
On April 19, 2020, Lady Gaga organized a global, live-streamed event in which artists from all over the world performed from their homes to raise awareness about the health crisis. She’s one of the heroes among celebrities donating their time and money to the victims of the pandemic.
And then, slowly, in one place after another, the first big outbreak of COVID-19 seemed to have waned. Asian countries began to loosen their lockdowns.
Children could go out on the streets again, some of them after 70 days of confinement in their homes. The stamina of children in quarantine has been admirable.
The elderly, a most vulnerable group in the pandemic, could carefully return to their daily routines.
“Healthcare workers, researchers and administrators should emerge from this era-defining crisis as national heroes,” the Australian historian Clara Wright says. “Our heroes don’t just belong to the past, they live with us today.” British street artist Banksy appears to agree and made this work – ‘Game Changer’ – for the staff in University Hospital Southampton.
So yes, we will remember the heroes of our time. After hardship and losses, there is time to celebrate those who worked so hard and risked their lives to save others. And when the second wave of the pandemic came, they were once again ready to fight for us.
The pandemic, an event unprecedented in all of our lives, has brought out the “kindness of people,” an Italian nurse tells ‘The Guardian.’ And that is important for the heroes of this pandemic. “We’re humans and, like all humans, we take the baggage of pain home with us, but this kindness helps us to carry on.”