the new variant assaults UK hospitals

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 have gone from 52 patients on December 22 to 237 last Friday. Today [lunes] there are 299“says Miguel Jorquera, a Murcian who works as a nursing assistant at the University Hospital of Southampton. “There I got 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 admitted for every 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 they are suffering from the flood of new income.

“As I’m talking 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,” he declared the British Prime Minister himself, Boris Johnson.

New variant? Infections accelerate in Ireland, UK, the Netherlands and Spain

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At the beginning of April, El Confidencial contacted several Spanish health workers on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus in UK hospitals. At the time, the pandemic had barely reached the country, while in Spain health services were collapsing. Ten months later and with a third wave that is breaking daily records in the United Kingdom, El Confidencial has contacted them again. If the first wave was chaos, but without overflowing, in this the plans are already made, it is more orderly … But much higher.

Now, the prevailing emotion among these same 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 the vaccine, and now, bang, slap in the mouth, new strain “, exemplifies Marina Pastor, a Sevillian nurse who works in the intensive care unit of the same hospital, the largest in the county of Hampshire, in the 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.”

Photo: A lone runner near the City of London.  (EFE)
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England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned Monday that the country was entering the “most dangerous” part of the pandemic and that “the next few weeks are going to be the worst” for the British health service. In England, the daily number of earnings 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, last Monday there were more than 30,000 admitted to hospitals, compared with the 18,000 that was reached at the maximum. And experts are especially concerned about the rate of new infections in those over 60 years of age, more likely to need hospitalization, which has also quadrupled.

The ‘fire’ of the new variant

The figures have not only multiplied in admissions, but also in ICUs in just a few weeks: of the 12 or 13 critical patients who, since the summer, they have been keeping in the ICU, it suddenly went up to 40. ” When Kent Hospitals overflowed with the new variant [del covid], they started transferring patients from there. In mid-December, we had 12, 13 or 14 patients, but the new strain arrived and went from that to 22, 23, and not even five days had passed and we are now about 40. Right now, there are in ICU 44 patients and almost 300 in the hospital, spread over the floors, “explains Pastor.

Cemeteries in the United Kingdom cannot afford to bury so many dead

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 CDC director, has noted 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 a lockdown 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 Hampsire 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 they take the pandemic 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. When we spoke for the first time, he was about to be transferred to the ward of coronavirus In this new wave, another colleague from his oncology service has been enlisted in front of the covid, but Fernando does not rule out that he will be called again due to the number of patients who are being admitted.

Photo: Work in the laboratory.  (EFE)
The variant of covid in the United Kingdom: is it more contagious, more lethal or does it affect vaccines?

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“You find people without a mask in closed places like the supermarket, nobody wears the mask on the street. Either people get more serious, or this will continue to increase. In general, the population is more aware in Spain “, affirms the nurse. The feeling is shared by Marina and Miguel:” You leave one and get into another, it seems that they take it as a joke. For example, the mask is not mandatory yet and they only worry about the PCR from the outside. But what about within the country? Why don’t they care more about how the cases are expanding within the country? “The ICU nurse laments.

UK has already exceeded 80,000 deaths and three million cases. Authorities fear that 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. “A colleague in the UCI, a Spanish woman, told me that she is going to deliver her letter of resignation and is going back to Spain,” says Miguel. “Many personnel who were in the first wave have not returned, has left or has changed service … At least, we have lost 10 or 15 members of the staff, “explains Marina about the situation in her hospital.” People who have repeated in the first and second waves, counted with the hand. “And in Southampton they are better than in Kent, where 25% of 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, 140,000 NHS workers are estimated to be ‘absent’, up from 100,000 at the peak of the first wave.

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