This week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK has reached “a perilous turning point” after setting out a raft of new coronavirus restrictions for England which could last for up to six months. This comes as new figures revealed a 43% rise in the number of weekly coronavirus cases in England, with 6,178 positive cases confirmed on Wednesday, up 1,252 since Tuesday, and 37 deaths.
Boris Johnson said it was vital for the public to follow the tighter restrictions across the UK (including a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants in England) to avoid the country falling victim to a second wave of infections. People are being told to work from home if they can, with rules on face coverings expanded and the number of wedding guests allowed in England slashed.
The UK death toll now stands at over 41,800. For those working on the front line, a second wave could mean increased working hours, more deaths and more trauma. So are they fearful?
“Thinking about a possible second wave has brought back memories of just how busy and full the intensive care units were and the enormous strain my colleagues were put under,” says 34-year-old trainee doctor Kate Grailey. “I have a very real fear of us returning to that situation — or even worse.”
Kate, who is an anaesthetic registrar (trainee doctor) based in London, was taking a break from training to do research before the pandemic. But she was redeployed to the NHS when the pandemic hit. “This took the form of looking after COVID-19 patients in intensive care units in hospital and also part of a critical care transfer service — essentially around London.”
Thinking about a possible second wave has brought back memories of just how busy and full the intensive care units were and the enormous strain my colleagues were put under. I have a very real fear of us returning to that situation — or even worse.Kate Grailey, 34, Trainee doctor
This was extremely challenging because of the lack of knowledge about how to manage the disease, she adds. She’s hopeful the NHS will be better equipped for a second wave but can’t help but still feel anxious. “While we have learned much more about the disease itself, and simple things such as how to correctly put on and take off PPE, the anxiety of knowing just how bad the situation could be is significant.”
On Monday Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief scientific and medical officers respectively, warned that “the seasons are against us” as the cold winter months threaten to increase the number of COVID-19 cases. US experts have warned of a “twindemic”, where the coronavirus pandemic is made more difficult by seasonal flu, with GPs in the UK preparing for a cold and flu season “like no other”.
“I worry that the timing of the second wave coincides with winter where the NHS is usually very stretched at the best of times,” says 34-year-old Dr Shireen, a GP based in north London. “And I’m concerned that there won’t be enough testing capacity as influenza and the common cold can present with similar symptoms to COVID-19.”
Dr Shireen adds that the threat of a second wave is very real and she wishes the public would take it seriously. “We went from our first case of COVID-19 in February to a full-on lockdown by the end of March. The spread is rapid and there is currently no vaccine,” she says. “We must continue to follow the guidelines — and most importantly, wear masks, wash hands and socially distance.”
According to figures from the Mental Health Foundation, almost one in five (19%) of UK adults were left feeling hopeless because of the pandemic. For 28-year-old CBT therapist Anjali Bali, who is based in Essex, a second lockdown could mean an influx of new patients seeking therapy for trauma. “I’m worried about the increase in domestic violence cases and the long-term mental health effects the pandemic may have,” she says, “especially trauma, for those who have been essential workers such as nurses, doctors, pharmacists and teachers.”
She continues: “I wish the public would take it more seriously. I know the guidance is confusing but I wish they would understand that the pandemic does not discriminate; it doesn’t matter how old you are.”
It is a scary thought to think we’ve already been preparing for a possible second wave, it almost feels never-ending. I’m worried about the strain this could put on the NHS yet again and hope the government and the public do the best they can to prepare and soften the blow.Jennifer okolo, 25, therapist
Jennifer Okolo, a 25-year-old occupational therapist from south London, agrees. “The threat of a second wave is very high especially if social distancing isn’t enforced as much as possible,” she says. “It is a scary thought to think we’ve already been preparing for a possible second wave, it almost feels never-ending. I’m worried about the strain this could put on the NHS yet again and hope the government and the public do the best they can to prepare and soften the blow.”
She adds that the reality of being a key worker hit her at many points during the pandemic, so much so she questioned whether leaving the profession would be the safest option. “There were weeks where I could not sleep, stayed in a hotel to protect my family, worked longer hours. At some point, I’m sure anyone would ask themselves how long they would continue for.”
She continues: “I think there are still many people who are ambivalent about the seriousness of this virus which is, unfortunately, going to contribute to a second wave. I wish the public knew that just because COVID-19 hasn’t directly affected you or those close to you, that doesn’t mean you are exempt.”
The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. It says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don’t get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.
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