COVID-19 sirens have started to sound louder again, filling the air, tens of thousands of staff in the National Health Services (NHS), care homes and other healthcare settings are gathering to fight against the bloody virus. It is now strikingly evident the second wave of Covid-19 is spreading rapidly across the United Kingdom which has triggered considerable concerns – but what occurs next is a big mystery. An interim report, from a large testing programme in the community, suggests COVID cases are doubled under most local lockdowns in England. Currently, as many as one in 100 people are infected with Covid-19 in North-West of England. Even in the least affected areas, approximately one in 400 people are carrying the virus. According to the latest figures released by the department of health, on 3rd October, coronavirus cases in the UK have risen by nearly double the previous daily record. These findings highlight that the condition in the UK is fast-moving to demonstrate the necessity for continued engagement from the public to comply with government rules and regulations to suppress the virus. However, data suggests that some of the measures that have been put in place to slow the transmission of the virus are working effectively in different parts of the UK.
The doomsday scenario of a doubling of cases every week with a shortage of nursing staff and winter pressures on the NHS are signifying the looming challenges of the nation’s unprecedented demand for healthcare which has left the UK government on the knife-edge. The pandemic outbreak has not only highlighted structural problems within the healthcare system but also surfaced the degree of trauma and exhaustion faced by medical staff in four months of battling the coronavirus with a backlog of millions of delayed operations in the UK. There are an estimated 50,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS in the UK alone. Consequently, a significant pressure faced by the hospitals and wider healthcare settings, makes it essential for the government to pump more resources to prevent a second wave. Given the current situation, NHS COVID disruption could also cause thousands of deaths because the NHS has suspended such a large proportion of normal care to focus on tackling Covid-19. The recent sharp rises in infections and hospital admissions because of the disease has put the entire NHS on alert.
The lockdown which began in the UK on 23 March, GP urgent referrals for cancer fell by 62%, the number of MRI and CT scans to diagnose the disease plummeted by 75% and by mid-May, 36,000 cancer operations had been cancelled. Almost 1 million women across the UK have been unable to have a mammogram since March as the breast cancer screening program was postponed. Macmillan Cancer Support charity said the disruption to normal health care has created a “cancer timebomb” of untreated patients and that some had their diagnosis delayed by six months. In these strange months, of diverse opinions, racial inequalities, and exhausted medical staff, what we have learnt will be the only decisive factor to defeat the virus in the second peak. In the light of a lesson learned from past experience, the NHS has restructured its strategy to be more proactive this time to deliver services for people with non-COVID illnesses, such as cancer patients and those who require surgical intervention. Additionally, the NHS is setting up designated ‘COVID-free’ hospitals around England in preparation for a second wave. More than 3.5 billion items, including aprons, goggles, facemasks, and gloves, have been bought by the government this year to protect NHS and social care staff from the spread of coronavirus.
In July, it was revealed that £15bn had been allocated by the Treasury to buy such a kit equivalent to about £200 per person, after hard lessons learned from the past. In the meantime, the NHS has secured 30,000 ventilators that can help people breathe if they are very unwell with coronavirus. To my mind, the UK Government deserves a big round of applause, since it was battling at many ends against the invisible enemy. Never forget the outbreak is the biggest ever ¬challenge faced by the country since the Second World War. It has required a huge economic bailout and an immense effort by the NHS, care staff and other key workers. Although the Government acted too slowly to introduce lockdown measures, a good call in using experts to sell its social distancing message was successful while keeping most parks open and allowing daily exercise. By contrast, Italy shut public spaces entirely from mid-March, which worsened the mental health problems in the population. Now the UK government is applying all learnt lessons over the past months and have secured the personal protective equipment PPE for medical staff and doing every possible measure to protect the millions of jobs by launching furlough scheme, smaller firms were promised emergency cash through Loans Scheme while big companies could access funds via the COVID Corporate Financing Facility. In the end, we are still learning about coronavirus but with the help of supercomputers, scientific research and clinical informatics and data analytics, we are close to unlocking the mystery. The conditions developed by Covid-19 are scary and mysterious which forced more than 150 countries to impose border restrictions. The UK is in the largest recession on record after the economy has shrunk more than it has done in 65 years. In these uncertain times, birds still sing, flowers still grow, and waves still sweep the shore, and with the rising and setting of sun, nature sirens that brighter days will come.
—The writer is freelance columnist, based in UK.