2020 has been a very challenging year for all of us due to the global coronavirus pandemic, and even a small island nation like Iceland hasn’t been spared. For all of the difficulties we have had to face, there’s one person (or, in this case, class of people) who proved their mettle and confirmed once again their dire importance to our lives: Iceland’s health care workers.
While people such as Directorate of Health director Alma Möller, Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir and chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason have been instrumental in shaping policy to fight the pandemic, it’s the health care workers on the ground who have literally risked their lives to conduct the coronavirus sampling, do the testing, and tend to those stricken by the illness.
Their importance could certainly be better reflected by how the government treats them. Icelandic nurses, for example, have been overworked and underpaid for years now. This year, they had to vote yes to a strike just to get the government to meet them some of the way in paying them what they are owed.
Without these people, one shudders to think of the state of the country during this pandemic. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic managed to infect 63% of Reykjavík residents, with a mortality rate of 2.6% on average—in some more vulnerable groups, it was even higher, with 37% of pregnant women dying of the illness.
With all this in mind, the experts who created the ever-changing guidelines for responding to the virus have been vitally important, but none of their policies would mean anything without the hardworking, underpaid, and under-appreciated folks who labour continuously to keep us all safe. For that reason, the Reykjavík Grapevine is proud to call them the 2020 Person of the Year.
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