Hero or Zero? Who has made the list?

Photoof pebble painted with rainbow "stay safe"

I’ve been watching too much television! Those reviews of 2020, highlighting the many heroes we’ve created during the pandemic, prompted me to write about some heroes and zeros of my own for 2020.

Without doubt, the impact of COVID-19 has demonstrated the enormous value of our health service workers, care workers, council workers, postal workers, shop workers, delivery drivers, bus drivers, lorry drivers, teachers, teaching assistants, police and many more. When the more fortunate retreated to their safe suburbs and countryside escapes, it was the key workers, many low-paid, that kept them fed, safe and supplied. Too often taken for granted, we owe a great debt to those on the front line.

Alongside key workers was an army of volunteers, formal and informal, who came together to support the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Medicines and foods were delivered to the doorstep, phone calls were made to the lonely, and dogs were walked where needed. What the media called “Dunkirk spirit” was in fact collective action, organised by individuals, voluntary groups, charities and communities. Human kindness, empathy and concern for others defined these heroes.

Some heroes had a far-reaching impact on others; and deserved the media attention they received. Captain Tom’s fundraising inspired and lifted us all, while Marcus Rashford’s simple but popular call for action forced a reluctant government to do the right thing.

During 2020, politicians had to make difficult decisions. New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern has received many plaudits, but closer to home, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, also makes my list. Throughout the pandemic, and despite the largely hostile media, she has spoken to the Scottish people almost every weekday, on-time, openly; and with clear empathy. Here is her new year message.

On the other hand, Boris Johnson has to be zero number one. When he wasn’t speaking in metaphors and avoiding scrutiny, he was throwing vast sums away on policies that simply failed to deliver what he promised (the world-beating COVID app, the world beating test and trace system). This pattern continued, with Johnson making many U-turns throughout 2020. Just how Priti Patel could describe the government as being ahead of the curve on COVID-19 is beyond me.

Joining Johnson on the zero list would be Dominic Cummings (I hadn’t forgotten him), the celebrities who have been breaking the COVID rules, and the anti-vaccination/COVID-19 conspiracy activists. Let’s be clear, COVID-19 is not transmitted by 5G radio signals, nor does 5G degrade your immune system!

Fortunately, proper science has come to the fore during this pandemic. Voices of reason like Professors Devi Sridhar and Jason Leitch have been greatly welcome. Meanwhile, it was science that brought us the vaccines upon which we are now pinning a great deal of hope.

Which takes me to a particular nasty type of zero. Those anti-lockdown advocates among the fit and healthy who want to hide away the over 60s and/or people with pre-exisiting health conditions so that everyone else can lead normal lives. Some have even gone on record saying that saving the elderly is not worth the cost.

And so to the biggest zero of all…which isn’t even human. COVID-19 has travelled the world; and the death toll continues to rise. Many countries it seems, were not properly prepared; and it can be argued that some, like the UK, were also slow to react. As expected, it was the poor, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable who suffered most under COVID-19. Sadly, there will be more suffering before enough of us are vaccinated to make a difference. Until then, the front line workers and volunteers will lead the way; and the politicans will I hope, learn from their previous mistakes.

Indeed, the lessons from this year must be properly understood, so we can be ready the next time this happens.

Happy new year.

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