‘Many people did something immense, for complete strangers’ – readers’ heroes of 2020

During the pandemic, there have been many unsung heroes – from supermarket staff to the people who carried on doing essential work for our society. Here are some of them

At the start of lockdown, I interviewed the virologist Dr Jane Greatorex. She was superb, with a gunslinging turn-of-phrase (“corona is the only pathogen in town”) and full of advice that rammed home, like no shambling government press conference ever could, the gravity of our situation. She washed deliveries before they came into the house, would talk to her neighbour only through a hedge and described the precautionary measures taken by her sister, who worked in Waitrose. Those were pretty intense – involving a lot of changes of clothes and black bin bags, plus a lifesize cutout of Jürgen Klopp.

I have thought about her sister a lot: what it is like when everyone else is avoiding their closest friends for safety, and you are seeing 50 strangers an hour. I have also thought about delivery drivers, knocking on doors with no idea who might be self-isolating behind them; bus drivers, getting sneezed on by squads of schoolchildren; teachers, carers, anyone anywhere near a hospital. Especially at the height of the crisis (when there were serious questions over whether it was safe to handle a petrol pump) while battalions of people were living in this cacophony of anxiety and caution, and having to block it out, every day, in order to go and do their jobs. The bravery of that is hard to wrestle into comprehension – though as thought experiments go, it is a lot less uncomfortable than trying to imagine what would have happened if everyone in these vital services had simply refused to perform them: if all these workers who, being often low-paid, and were previously held as low value, had called the world’s bluff.

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