The coronavirus pandemic has thrust a range of politicians and public health experts into the spotlight. Lauren Harte spoke to some of those who have led Northern Ireland's fight against Covid-19 about how they have found the past year in the public eye.
The health minister
Former Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann followed his party colleague Michael McGimpsey in taking on the health portfolio with the return of the Stormont Assembly in January.
The North Antrim MLA's new role had no shortage of demands, with tackling a crisis in waiting lists seen as an urgent priority earlier this year, then along came Covid-19.
Since taking on the post, Mr Swann has had little time to reflect.
"In those very early days in January, I like most others, hadn't heard of novel coronavirus (nCoV) as it was known then and hadn't foreseen that the year to come would be the toughest-ever for our health service," he said.
"Now as I take some time to reflect on the past 10 months - there have certainly been a number of defining moments - the lockdown of our country, closure of our schools and overwhelming pressure on all aspects of our health service."
By and large, Mr Swann believes the public response to these challenges has been extraordinary.
"We asked people to stay at home, to protect our health service and save lives. For the most part, people willingly sacrificed their personal freedoms to protect others.
"But in all honesty I have also had fleeting moments of despair. There has been a minority whose behaviour has been at odds with the public health advice. I sincerely hope that those who are in this camp can see that Covid continues to put huge pressures on our already over-burdened health service."
Despite all of this, the overriding sentiment Mr Swann will take away from this pandemic is one of pride.
"This was a new virus that we didn't know a lot about it. Images from Wuhan beamed on to our television screens.
"Scenes from hospitals that were overrun. Pictures of mass funerals. Stories of health workers dying. Yet this did not deter our frontline staff. Their courage, commitment and determination saw us through some of the darkest days and we must never forget the sacrifices they have made for us."
Mr Swann says 2020 has also shown us what can be achieved when we work together and he has been heartened by Northern Ireland's response to Covid.
"Across our health service there have been countless examples of ingenuity, teamwork and tenacity.
"New services have been developed and brought online in a matter of days and weeks, rather than months and years.
"Communities worked together to deliver medicines, meals and essentials to the vulnerable. We have seen the very best in human nature."
The public health expert
Dr Gabriel Scally - the west Belfast man trained as a medical doctor at Queens University. After serving as Director of Public Health in the Eastern Health and Social Services Board, Dr Scally was appointed as a public health director in the NHS in England.
He was later appointed as an associate fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank and as a visiting chair at Bristol University and the University of the West of England.
In 2018 Dr Scally was pointed by the Irish Government to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the cervical cancer controversy.
He also assisted the Hyponatraemia Inquiry into the deaths of five children in Northern Ireland hospitals as both an expert witness and as an advisor to the Chair, Justice O'Hara.
During the course of 2020, Dr Scally says he had a strange feeling that all his working life as a public health doctor has been in preparation for this time.
"In the spring I could see clearly the serious errors mounting up and it made me very anxious and extremely fearful of what was coming," he said.
"Early in the pandemic I was also very shaken by the death from Covid-19 of someone I knew from his singing songs at an Irish music session in Bristol that I have attended every week for years.
"His death convinced me that I needed to start speaking up in order to prevent others."
As the death toll mounted and the mismanagement of the UK government continued, Dr Scally's feelings turned to anger.
"In particular, I will never forgive or forget the collective failure across the island of Ireland to take advantage of the virtual elimination of Covid-19 in the summer. I knew that if this had been a disease of pigs, cattle or sheep, then co-operation would have been a given and a co-ordinated effort would have been made to eliminate the virus from Ireland and, importantly, to prevent new cases being imported."
Dr Scally was later invited to join the UK's independent scientific SAGE group, which provides independent and consistently correct expert advice to government, the public and the media.
"I hope the result is that my comments resonate more with people.
"Our media presence has certainly been extensive.
"Our collective efforts on Indie SAGE have had an effect, if not on the disastrous official policies in England or Northern Ireland, then certainly on the public.
"The outpouring of support and appreciation for our work has been very moving. My re-engagement with the media in Northern Ireland has also been a definite positive of the year."
The chief medical officer
Dr Michael McBride was appointed to the post of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for the Department of Health, in September 2006.
Prior to joining the department he had been Medical Director at the Royal Group of Hospital and a consultant in the health service since 1994.
"A year like no other" is how he described the last 10 months which has seen him working at the very heart of Northern Ireland's battle to combat the effects of Covid-19.
"The challenges that everyone in society have faced as a result of this pandemic have been of a scale I don't think any of us have experienced before.
"This virus has cost lives and livelihoods and has adversely affected us all either directly or indirectly.
"As ever it has been the young, the old, the disadvantaged and those most deprived who have suffered most."
"There has been immense pain and suffering brought to the doors of so many but there has also been inspirational instances of courage and compassion and human endeavour."
Dr McBride says he has never felt such immense pride in, and gratitude towards all staff - his colleagues and friends - who make up all parts of the health service family.
"Each and every one of them irrespective of role or responsibility across a multitude of disciplines and settings, have tended those for whom they care with a dedication, compassion, skill and professionalism that has been truly humbling to witness.
"They have saved lives, they have consoled the families of those they were unable to save and perhaps most poignantly they have held the hands and comforted many, whose families could not be there with them in their final moments.
"Each and every one of them have done so irrespective of the personal risk and yes they have lost colleagues and friends too."
That is also extended to his fellow citizens.
"My gratitude must also be extended to the people of Northern Ireland who have shown a solidarity and care for their fellow citizens which would seem to be ingrained in the NI psyche.
"We care about and look after each other because we have a strong sense of community.
"It has often fallen to me to be the bearer of difficult messages around the restrictions that needed to be introduced to protect us all from this virus and prevent our health service from becoming overwhelmed.
"I have been heartened by the way that the community as a whole has followed what I fully recognise has been a big ask on their behalf."
The chief scientific advisor
Five years into his role at the Department of Health, 2020 has seen Professor Ian Young dedicate almost all of his working time to Covid-19.
He was previously Professor of Medicine at Queen's University, where he was also Director of the Centre for Public Health.
"I really welcome the focus that has been placed this year on the value of science and the hard work that all of our scientists do behind the scenes, not only within our health system but across all aspects of our daily lives," he said.
"The remarkable efforts of all of those who have been involved in developing and producing the Covid-19 vaccine is testament to that."
For Professor Young, the weekly press briefings have been an important part in communicating with the public.
"I think it was vital that the public were able to hear directly from us and to see the figures that were informing the decisions being made," he added.
"As an academic, I have been used to teaching and presenting and that has been useful experience for this year.
"As a clinician, I have been used to explaining complex topics to individual patients and I hope I have been able to do something similar for the general public in interviews and press briefings. However, the public would be a better judge of my success than I can be!
"This year has been incredibly difficult for everyone. I know it has not been easy for our lives to be disrupted as restrictions were brought in but I think we can all agree that we want to see a way out of this pandemic."
Professor Young believes this pandemic is a reminder that as human beings we are still vulnerable to new and emerging diseases.
"It has been a time of incredible pressure for many working in health and social care, and I have not been immune to that on a personal level.
"I'm very grateful for the ongoing support of family, friends and colleagues throughout this year and as we move into 2021."
With the welcome news of the vaccine roll-out, he is also hopeful for what next year will bring.
"There will be some difficult months to come, but there is also no doubt that we can look forward with hope to a time that we can do all the normal things we enjoy."
Dr Connor Bamford is a virology research fellow investigating antiviral immunity in the lung at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen's University Belfast
As a scientist, he specialises in viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2 that causes Covid-19 and has previously written on the Ebola and Marburg viruses.
Early in January 2020, in an article entitled "Mystery China pneumonia outbreak likely caused by new human coronavirus", he presented the facts as known at the time, explained them from a place of deep knowledge, warning that this was a serious matter.
This coverage of the story that would define 2020 meant regular media contributions from Dr Bamford would continue.
"My input has always tried to be based on fact and evidence in an open and accountable manner. I hope that I have conveyed that over last year," Dr Bamford reflected.
"I do not think I would be able to estimate how anybody was affected by the things I say as me and my words do not exist in a vacuum, although my messages are echoed by other public health leaders and experts in Northern Ireland, the UK and worldwide.
"On one side, I can see that the people of Northern Ireland (including our societal leaders) have been able to understand the evidence and reasoning that we are communicating and responded positively and because of this we all made a significant impact against Covid-19.
"However, I also see that the challenges that Covid-19 has brought about have been unprecedented and in some instances either people are not listening or that advice is too difficult to take on board, in comparison to carrying on as normal, where no additional support has been provided.
"Further exacerbating any appeals are mixed messages existing from politicians or self-professed experts or sceptics on social media.
"I think we all have learnt several significant lessons during this year, which should put us in good stead for whatever 2021 has in store for us, including -unfortunately - the continued presence of Covid-19."
Dr Bamford's main lesson has been to not underestimate the goodwill and resolve of the majority of people who have taken on board what the real experts have said.
"It is because of them that we are not in a worse position now than we could have been," he added.