With celebrities unable to reach their usual audiences, and politicians under increased scrutiny, public health experts are stealing the limelight.
Previously unknown virologists and epidemiologists have become household names in a number of countries, where citizens anxiously await their assessment and advice on the unfolding pandemic.
Dr Fernando Simón, Spain’s health emergency chief, won over the nation with his plain-talking, no-nonsense approach. With a hoarse voice and wild hair, he has been the face of its bruising fight against COVID-19.
His straightforward and detailed updates on the evolution of the epidemic, combined with empathy and patience, have turned him into a pop icon for many Spaniards.
Social media is awash with montages of his face, and memes of his most memorable moments on camera – including a coughing fit during a press conference, which he said was not due to the coronavirus, but because he had eaten an almond.
There are even T-shirts and tote bags to his image.
Simón is well aware of the attention and has a message for those using his now-familiar face.
“I’m delighted that people are taking advantage of my image to set up a business that they can see as profitable… that’s fine by me. What I would like more, if possible, is that perhaps they could donate a small percentage of those benefits to NGOs,” Simón said on Friday.
Simón had a rough time when he was accused by conservative politicians and media of having withheld information about the pandemic in order to allow International Women’s Day demonstrations to take place on March 8.
But when he tested positive for the coronavirus in late March, his case sparked a nationwide outpouring of sympathy.
Three months in the hearts of Spaniards have now also earned him a name overseas, with the New York Times writing he had cut “an endearing scientific hero figure.“