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“We went from 52 patients to 237 in 2 weeks”: the new variant assaults UK hospitals

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Jiya Saini
Jiya Saini is a Journalist and Writer at Revyuh.com. She has been working with us since January 2018. After studying at Jamia Millia University, she is fascinated by smart lifestyle and smart living. She covers technology, games, sports and smart living, as well as good experience in press relations. She is also a freelance trainer for macOS and iOS, and In the past, she has worked with various online news magazines in India and Singapore. Email: jiya (at) revyuh (dot) com

Health workers in the United Kingdom tell how they are living this new wave, which is putting British hospitals to the limit with rising cases

Although its hospitals suffered, there was a shortage of protective equipment and the United Kingdom was placed among the nations with the most infected, the country managed to overcome the first wave without the dreaded collapse. 

In the United Kingdom, the fear of covid was almost lost, even among health workers. But then the third wave arrived, fueled by a new variant with 70-80% more contagious potential. 

“We went from 52 patients on December 22 to 237 last Friday. Today [Monday] there are 299,” says Miguel Jorquera, who works as a nursing assistant at the University Hospital of Southampton. “There I was scared, the progression has been very high.”

The new variant has taken UK hospitals by storm, which have become one of the most saturated in Europe, with one of the highest hospital bed occupancy rates, with almost 50 hospitalized per 100,000 inhabitants. For comparison, the new weekly admissions per 100,000 inhabitants in Denmark, one of the highest in Europe, is at 17. In France, it is at 11. In most regions of the National Health System (NHS), hospitals are suffering from the flood of new incomings.

“As I am speaking to you, our hospitals are under even more pressure from the covid than at any other time since the start of the pandemic. There is a material risk that the National Health Service will be overwhelmed in the next 21 days,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself.

Now, the prevailing emotion among health workers is fatigue and exhaustion in the face of this new wave, worse than that of April, which threatens to overwhelm hospitals, especially in the southeast of the country. 

“It all coincided with the hope of finally getting the vaccine, and now, bang, a slap in the mouth, a new strain,” exemplifies Marina Pastor, a nurse from Seville who works in the intensive care unit of the same hospital, the largest in the county of Hampshire, south of the island of Great Britain. 

“Psychologically, we are exhausted. You empty a bed and get busy again in half an hour. Now it is more difficult to see the end of the tunnel.”

England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, warned on Monday that the country was entering the “most dangerous” part of the pandemic and “the next few weeks are going to be the worst” for the British health service. In England, the daily number of entries has quadrupled since the beginning of December and is now almost double the peak reached during the first wave. According to data from Whitty himself, there were more than 30,000 admitted to hospitals last Monday, compared to the 18,000 that was reached at a maximum. And experts are particularly concerned about the rate of new infections in those over 60 years of age, who are more likely to need hospitalization, which has also quadrupled.

The ‘fire’ of the new variant

It was not until December 14 that the United Kingdom recognized the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus, B.1.1.7, much more infectious than the one known until then. Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC, has pointed out that “variant B.1.1.7 is spreading like wildfire in the UK and Ireland.” 

Overnight, infections soared, especially in the county of Kent (southeast) and London. With unseen spikes in new admissions and ICUs already loaded, Kent was forced to stop non-urgent procedures and refer patients to hospitals in other regions. The closest urban nucleus was London, but the ravages of B.1.1.7 were also being seen there. The lack of control was such that on January 4, confinement had to be declared again in practically the whole country. 

“We have a new variant of the virus and it is both frustrating and alarming to see the speed at which this variant is spreading,” lamented Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the time.

No mask

At least 18 hospitals in the Midlands and South East England (Kent and Hampshire are among them) have reached CRITCON level 3, which implies that they are “at maximum” capacity, according to NHS data obtained by the Health Service Journal (HSJ). There is only one higher category, the extremely rare level 4, which means that a hospital has been “overwhelmed” and may be forced to turn down critical emergencies.

“It may be a matter of the new variant, but the truth is that here the pandemic is taken much more lightly,” complains Fernando, a specialist nurse in oncology at the University Hospital of the College of London (UCLH), who during the first wave was working for three months with covid patients. 

“You find people without a mask in closed places like the supermarket, nobody wears a mask on the street. Either people get more serious, or this will continue to increase.

The United Kingdom has already exceeded 80,000 deaths and three million cases. Authorities fear the more congestion in the hospitals, the higher the mortality. This is the case, for example, of one of the main hospitals in Kent County, which accumulates the highest mortality in the last wave. 

“In terms of symptoms and severity, it does not seem that the variant is more serious, but if the transmission is greater, we return to the same, the risk of collapsing the hospital is greater,” explains Marina.

And the whole situation is taking its toll on healthcare professionals. “Many personnel that were in the first wave have not returned, left or changed service … At least we have lost 10 or 15 members of the staff,” explains Marina about the situation at her hospital. 

And in Southampton, they are better than in Kent, where 25% of the clinical and administrative staff are ‘absent’ (either because they have left work or because they have been infected). According to The Health Foundation, an NGO, an estimated 140,000 NHS workers are ‘absent’, up from 100.

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