LONDON — Those on the frontline in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic — from health workers to public servants — are rightly getting plaudits for their brave and tireless work.
But the crisis has also revealed some unexpected heroes who are showing ingenuity and community spirit to tackle the health emergency engulfing the world.
Here is POLITICO’s list of 19 of many coronavirus heroes across the globe.
1. Letter writers — providing hope
An anonymous doctor from Madrid’s Princesa Hospital asked Spaniards to write letters to the thousands of people who have been hospitalized with serious cases of the coronavirus. These patients are placed in isolation rooms where they are only seen by doctors who make their rounds once a day, and for many the situation is deeply traumatic. The doctor pleaded for Spaniards to write to these patients, tell them a bit about their lives, and encourage them to keep fighting. Verne reported that the doctor’s plea quickly went viral on social media, and Madrid’s College of Doctors confirms that last week over 30,000 letters have arrived at its offices. These have been distributed to patients in hospitals throughout Madrid.
2. Chefs — feeding the vulnerable
In Melbourne, Australia, a group of Sikh volunteers has started a free home delivery service aiming to deliver 1,000 home-cooked meals to those self-isolating, according to the Daily Mail.
Chef Jonny Burnett in Somerset, England, is also cooking and delivering meals for isolated or vulnerable people during the coronavirus crisis. He was offered space at the local pub to make the food.
“I know a lot of people are isolated so I said to my boss, ‘I’ll take time off work unpaid and just start feeding as many people as possible,’” he told the Weston Mercury.
3. Cleaners — protecting the prime minister
Long-serving cleaner in Spain’s parliament Valentina Cepeda won praise on Twitter for her vigilant work in protecting the country’s politicians during the crisis.
She became famous on March 18 as she disinfected the podium and microphone every time the prime minister and MPs spoke during the plenary session in which the country’s lockdown was debated. Lovely pictures of her at work here.
Health care staff have also been keen to highlight the important work of the many hospital cleaners who are working day and night to deep clean rooms where COVID-19 patients have been treated.
4. Tattoo artist — educating the kids
1,600+ Danish kids (including my daughter) currently taking an art lesson (from an artist/tattoo artist, not a professional teacher) on a Facebook live stream 🤘🏻 pic.twitter.com/TAliiIZqAG
— Neil S W Murray (@neilswmurray) March 19, 2020
With schools around the world now closed, parents are looking for alternative forms of education.
Copenhagen-based entrepreneur Neil Murray shared a snap of a tattoo artist giving more than 1,600 children, including his daughter, an art lesson on Facebook Live.
5. Cashiers — keeping the economy moving
Because cashiers show up to work every day, Europeans can still buy food all over the continent. Cashiers, who obviously cannot work from home and have to continue commuting in locked-down countries, are also among those facing the greatest health risk, as they are in contact with thousands of people. Their employers don’t always provide them with basic safety kit — gloves and masks. And in the last few weeks they have had to witness scenes of customers panic buying toilet paper.
In County Clare in Ireland, there are reports of shops putting up special perspex protective screens in an attempt to offer extra protection to staff and customers.
6. Children — lifting the spirits
Children across Italy are decking their neighborhoods with messages of optimism. Rainbows with the words “everything will be fine” along with drawings, placards and sheets hanging on balconies are spreading across Italy to provide hope during the crisis, Rai News reported.
Kids elsewhere, including in the U.K., have joined in.
7. Musicians — entertaining nations
Cultural venues, from opera houses to concert halls, have been streaming performances online as entertainment. Ancienne Belgique in Brussels has been broadcasting past concerts and the MET in New York is sharing virtual performances. Belgium’s public service broadcaster RTBF has pulled together some examples.
Meanwhile Emilie Delorme, the new head of the music and dance conservatory in Paris, started the hashtag #jegardemaplace (I’m keeping my seat) to encourage people not to ask for their money back for canceled shows or performances.
Meanwhile the German pianist Igor Levit has been holding daily livestreamed concerts from his home for the last few days to keep people’s spirits up.
Police on the streets of Algaida on the Spanish Balearic island of Mallorca brought a smile to locals — and then the world — as a Twitter clip of officers singing a traditional Mallorcan song, dancing and playing the guitar was beamed around the internet.
8. Technicians — keeping the digital world moving
A little-known unit in the U.K. Department for Health — NHSX — has been tasked with transforming services across England’s National Health Service to make them more digital. They have been working all hours to support the NHS through the crisis as the government tells people to get up-to-date advice online, and more services are delivered digitally to relieve pressure on frontline doctors.
Head of Open Technology at NHSX Terence Eden praised colleagues unexpectedly working weekends and “pulling out all the stops” in a tweet.
9. Bakers — in a time of knead
After Emmanuel Macron announced the country would be on lockdown and “nonessential shops” would close, people all over France (and on social media) had one question: But what about bakeries?
There was a country-wide sigh of relief when it was made clear that the 30,000 French bakeries would be allowed to remain open. French people can no longer go to the movies or see their families for the traditional Sunday lunch, but thanks to the bakers who will continue to wake up at 4 a.m. despite the coronavirus pandemic, they will continue to eat baguettes.
10. Manufacturers — killing the virus
While the price of much-needed hand sanitizers soared as stocks ran low, a number of businesses have acted quickly in recent weeks to keep the supply chain moving.
Among them Dundee-based Verdant Spirits, whose owner Andrew Mackenzie tracked down the ingredients listed on the World Health Organization’s website, and used Facebook to source hydrogen peroxide, so he could supply care workers with the germ-killing product at cost price, according to the BBC. Independent brewer BrewDog is creating “punk sanitiser” and providing it free to those in need, according to the Guardian.
For those on the hunt for a more upmarket way to decontaminate their hands, LVMH, which has been producing perfume under the Christian Dior brand at its factory outside the French town of Orléans, produced its first plastic bottles of hand sanitizer for doctors and nurses in Paris hospitals this week, according to the Financial Times.
11. Seamstresses — mass producing face masks
As well as hand sanitizer, there is a worldwide shortage of face masks.
In Poland, seamstresses have turned their hands to making face masks instead of lingerie. In Italy, a former clothing manufacturer has reopened his factory to make masks in Grosseto, producing 3,000-4,000 a day.
A Belgian company, which normally specializes in clothing and uniforms for medical staff, is helping make extra face masks, according to RTBF.
And in a small building near the infamous Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesvos in Greece, a group of four Afghan women have volunteered their time to sew face masks for the camp’s population to try to help protect them from the virus. Stand By Me Lesvos, a Greek NGO, realized that they could make use of the sewing machines from a previous project, the Guardian reported.
12. Booksellers — reading in isolation
With libraries closing and many people avoiding the shops, independent booksellers are finding entrepreneurial ways to get literature to the masses.
In London, Burley Fisher Books in Haggerston is asking people to tell them the last book they enjoyed and then suggesting a next read. For anyone in the London borough of Hackney, they offer to deliver the suggested book by bike, the Guardian reported.
In Norwich the independent bookseller The Book Hive has offered free postage on all orders, and curated self-isolation reading packs of five hand-picked books for those with plenty of time on their hands.
13. Rubbish collectors — keeping the streets clean
Despite social-distancing rules, bin collectors have been crammed in front of their rubbish trucks as they continue to work to make sure neighborhood and city centers remain clean and rubbish-free.
14. Neighbors — looking after your community
Cornish woman Becky Wass designed a print-at-home postcard template aimed at helping people look after their neighbors if they are self-isolating, and it has taken off.
The postcard offers neighbors a friendly phone call, to pick up shopping, post mail or get urgent supplies. Just a quick scan of Twitter reveals people in communities across the country are now printing the flyer and offering help. The BBC has the story.
15. 3D printers — producing the ventilators
Irishman Colin Keogh, whose day job involves sending 3D printers across the developing world so that local entrepreneurs can build their own devices, expects to have an open-sourced emergency ventilator in the hands of frontline workers shortly. He has been working with techies from around the globe to get the project up and running — just the latest in a number of grassroots projects from startups, tech workers and others in the digital industries to lend a helping hand. “We’re going to start testing it in Ireland next week,” Keogh said. “I hope no one ever has to use it. But some form of ventilator system is better than no ventilator system”
16. Pre-payers — supporting local businesses
A concerned Berlin citizen who is unable to give business to closed local restaurants, bars and museums affected by the virus has set up a website where people can buy gift vouchers to be redeemed after the crisis, helping provide much-needed cash to businesses now. The initiative was launched on Friday.
17. Dog-walkers — keeping pets in shape
Dozens of messages offering help with grocery deliveries, dog walking and other outdoor chores have popped up on the Freecycle gifting website in the U.K. “Hey! I would like to offer my services as a dog walker to anyone who needs one in these difficult times,” reads a typical message posted in the Barnet group.
18. Philanthropic landlords — helping the workers
Portuguese AirBnb operators are putting their empty rooms at the disposal of health workers at no cost. The rooms are places where doctors and nurses who fear that they may be carriers of the coronavirus can rest without putting their families at risk, according to Reuters.
In the U.K. former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville announced he was opening his hotels free of charge for health workers on the front line of the coronavirus crisis, the BBC reported. None of his staff will be made redundant or asked to take unpaid leave, he said.
19. Robots — disinfecting across the globe
Blue Ocean Robotics’ self-driving disinfection robot, which is equipped with an ultraviolet light that can disinfect and kill diseases, viruses and bacteria, has been deployed since February in all Chinese provinces to help fight the coronavirus, according to a European Commission press statement.
Annabelle Dickson, Kate Day, Cristina Gallardo, Aitor Hernández-Morales, Emilio Casalicchio, Laura Kayali, Zosia Wanat, Esther King, Zia Weise, Melissa Heikkilä, Kalina Oroschakoff, Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli and Matei Rosca contributed reporting.