Coronavirus hug image named World Press Photo of the Year

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In this image released by World Press Photo, Thursday April 15, 2021, by Mads Nissen, Politiken, Panos Pictures, which won the World Press Photo of the Year award, and the first prize in the General News Singles category, titled The First Embrace, shows Rosa Luzia Lunardi (85) embraced by nurse Adriana Silva da Costa Souza, at Viva Bem care home, Sao Paulo, Brazil, on August 5, 2020. (Mads Nissen, Politiken, Panos Pictures, World Press Photo via AP)

THE HAGUE – A photo symbolizing “love and compassion” of an 85-year-old Brazilian woman getting her first embrace in five months from a nurse through a transparent “hug curtain” was named the World Press Photo of the Year on Thursday.

It was the second time the Danish photographer who shot the image has won the prestigious award.

The choice of a winning photo portraying the global pandemic was almost inevitable for the contest covering a year in which news around the globe was dominated by the virus that has killed nearly 3 million people, including more than 360,000 in hard-hit Brazil.

The image by Mads Nissen captured the moment Rosa Luzia Lunardi was hugged by nurse Adriana Silva da Costa Souza at the Viva Bem care home in Sao Paulo on Aug. 5.

A curtain of clear plastic — its yellow edges folded into a shape resembling a pair of butterfly wings — offers protection, as does the nurse's face mask.

“This iconic image of COVID-19 memorializes the most extraordinary moment of our lives, everywhere," jury member Kevin WY Lee said of the hug image. "I read vulnerability, loved ones, loss and separation, demise, but, importantly, also survival — all rolled into one graphic image. If you look at the image long enough, you’ll see wings: a symbol of flight and hope.”

The image taken by Nissen for the Panos Pictures agency and the Danish daily Politiken also won first prize in the contest's General News Singles category. Nissen also won World Press Photo of the Year in 2015 with an intimate photo of a gay couple in Russia.

“The main message of this image is empathy. It’s love and compassion," Nissen said in a comment released by contest organizers.