What's happening with COVID-19 in the UK?

The novel coronavirus is playing havoc with the health and economic well-being of 199 countries and territories around the world. At present, the UK cases have reached 11,809, with over 580 deaths.

Volunteer response

In heartening news from the UK, there is an overwhelming response of volunteers to the call of the NHS, twice the original target envisioned on Tuesday. Anybody over 18 and in good health can volunteer. The morning after the call, thousands upon thousands had signed up to the coordinating group, aptly called Good Sam.

A male community volunteer carrying toilet rolls as he delivers essential supplies to vulnerable and elderly people self isolating during the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. Image Credit: Amani A / Shutterstock
A male community volunteer carrying toilet rolls as he delivers essential supplies to vulnerable and elderly people self isolating during the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. Image Credit: Amani A / Shutterstock

As of now, the total number of people who have responded is over 650,000. Earning a special thanks from the British Prime Minister, the volunteers, as well as NHS retirees who are returning to do their part, are expected to play a vital role in the fight against the coronavirus.

About 11,000 medical professionals who retired from the NHS, as well as 24,000 final year students of medicine and nursing, also will join the fight. The NHS England medical director Stephen Powis said he was overwhelmed by the gestures made by both the volunteers and the returning medical staff, calling them "outbreaks of altruism."

What will the volunteers do?

The main job of the NHS volunteers is to help out the 1.5 million people at high risk because of underlying medical illnesses who have been asked to self-isolate themselves from others for three months, for the sake of protecting themselves against COVID-19. These volunteers will be delivering essentials to isolated people, including the "Shield" boxes of food and medicines, as well as driving people to appointments.

The volunteers mostly say they are signing up because they want to help out in any way they see possible.

Putting arms around the people

This is one of many schemes that the government has announced to ease the pressure on the NHS. The success of the call has now raised hopes that the same will be done for Wales also.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the country, saying it was doing very well at facing the "most challenging possible circumstances." He also said that "never in our history has the government put its arms around people in the way we are doing now to help them get through this time." In addition, he said that his government would be trying its best to take legal action against hoarders and profiteers trying to make money out of the lockdown.

Also, there will be steps to make sure that those who are self-employed are also supported during this time. If this segment is forced to quarantine or fall sick, their income would be lost, pushing them into a situation of want.

Huge new COVID-19 hospital in Canning

The ExCeL exhibition center in Canning, London, is rapidly being converted into a vast if temporary, shelter for corona-affected patients – called NHS Nightingale. The hall, which is 600 m long, will be filled with 4,000 beds in two wards, to treat COVID-19 patients exclusively. The construction is taking place in record time, with the first 500 beds slated to be in place by Monday, as per NHS plans. The military is on hand, too, to ensure efficiency as the site becomes the UK's first makeshift but highly equipped emergency care center for the COVID-19 epidemic.

Excel London Conference Centre in London Docklands. Image Credit: Steve Heap / Shutterstock
Excel London Conference Centre in London Docklands. Image Credit: Steve Heap / Shutterstock

Several other temporary crisis hospitals are being put up around the UK to deal with the expected rise in patients who have breathing difficulties and will need assistance with mechanical ventilation. The ExCeL site is first to come online due to the 2-week advance in COVID-19 incidence in London, compared to the rest of the UK.

In its former life, the center was used for large conferences and exhibitions, G20 summits, and some of the events for the London 2012 Olympics. The very size of the 'soon-to-be hospital' has shocked former unbelievers such as Alex Woodside, who says, "If you're not taking it seriously like I wasn't, I think we really need to start because they're preparing for an absolute high death toll here."

British household technology company Dyson is also working round the clock to produce 10,000 ventilators for the government.

Testing to increase

Millions of testing kits could also become available, first for testing NHS workers so they can return to work if they have already caught the virus and recovered, and then for other general population. Chief Medical Officer Christopher Whitty said, "We do think that if everybody sticks to staying in their households, only going out unless absolutely essential, the situation will probably be manageable by the NHS."

The pandemic is causing increasing strain on the London Ambulance Service, and other emergency services, which are receiving many more thousands of calls than usual.

What about construction workers?

At the same time, the government's advice to construction workers to continue going to work as long as they can maintain a 2m distance between themselves at all times has attracted a lot of criticism. Much of the traffic on London's crowded underground is due to the commuting of construction workers.

People wearing face masks taking Jubilee Line underground train. Image Credit: Vudi Xhymshiti / Shutterstock
People wearing face masks taking Jubilee Line underground train. Image Credit: Vudi Xhymshiti / Shutterstock

London mayor Sadiq Khan, said, "too many of the people using Transport for London services at the busiest times work in construction." He has called for an outright ban on any construction work that is not safety-related.

While the Prime Minister promotes social distancing, he is not willing to stop construction workers, and the row has shifted to whether Tube service can be improved. The mayor says sicknesses and self-isolation have taken their toll on his transport staff. Meanwhile, politicians, unions, and workers have asked for a ban on non-essential construction.

Parliament has, meanwhile, gone into recess early to avoid the virus, but not before considering the emergency laws proposed by the government to handle the current crisis.

Sources:
Dr. Liji Thomas

Written by

Dr. Liji Thomas

Dr. Liji Thomas is an OB-GYN, who graduated from the Government Medical College, University of Calicut, Kerala, in 2001. Liji practiced as a full-time consultant in obstetrics/gynecology in a private hospital for a few years following her graduation. She has counseled hundreds of patients facing issues from pregnancy-related problems and infertility, and has been in charge of over 2,000 deliveries, striving always to achieve a normal delivery rather than operative.

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