The Paris team of reporter John Leicester, photographer Francois Mori and video journalist Nicolas Garriga broke through administrative barriers to produce powerful character-driven storytelling as the staff of one of France’s largest hospitals coped with the relentless tide of COVID cases and deaths.

Since March, repeated efforts by AP to gain access to Paris hospitals inundated with virus cases had been met by “Non” — or silence. So Leicester found workarounds. During France’s first lockdown, he went to Bichat Hospital and interviewed staff outside the facility as well as on Zoom and by phone. His reporting put AP on the map for senior administrators and doctors.

Leicester then stayed in touch with hospital staff through France’s second lockdown, and interviewed a top surgeon on his morning commute by bike about how the hospital was coping better with virus patients during the second surge. Armed with that story, the surgeon then lobbied successfully for Leicester, Garriga and Mori to be allowed to spend two days in the 900-bed hospital.

The access allowed the team to report on the last hours of a patient who died of COVID complications, and from inside an operating room as surgeons performed procedures after months of COVID delays.

The team’s harrowing report on the virus patient’s death in the ICU drew praise from staff at rival publications. “Beautiful and heart-wrenching,” said a New York Times staffer. An editor at New York Magazine called it “tender, beautiful, and bitter,” while the hospital’s surgical ICU chief called it “a brilliant display of the daily reality in ICU.” The New York Post was among AP clients that used the story in its entirety.

The team’s two video packages, with striking coverage of the dying patient and character-driven storytelling about postponed surgeries, were well-received by AP clients, including major broadcaster France24 and important German client Welt.

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AP crossformat journalists pose together while embedded at Bichat Hospital in Paris. From left, video journalist Nicolas Garriga, correspondent John Leicester and photographer Francois Mori.

AP Photo / Nicolas Garriga