It’s starting to look a lot like last Christmas: why the UK has already seen Covid | Coronavirus


TThis old Marx adage insists that historical events occur first as a tragedy and then as a farce. The government’s handling of the pandemic in the United Kingdom has long undermined this progress: tragedy and farce have, since the very beginning of the crisis, always been a double act.

The confrontational tone of current events feels like a disheartening festive rehearsal of all too familiar dramas. A week that began with the exposed Downing Street lockdown party scandal and ended with the resignation of chief civil servant Simon Case from his post as investigator of these scandals, due to a party in his own office , was also another week in which the alarming progress of the virus overtook government rhetoric and claimed a thousand more lives.

This weekend sees a resumption of the muddled Cobra meetings in which, once again, despite all recent assurances to the contrary, “nothing is on the table.” If you have felt that yawning feeling of “Let’s go again”, then this national déjà vu is taken care of in the news archive. Return the pages to Observer from exactly one year ago, and you’ll find headlines that read: “The New Variation, The Risks and the Vaccine” and “Shops and Businesses Desperate as Borders Interrupt Christmas Manna …” and “Johnson U-turn leaves nation’s Christmas plans in tatters.”

It is, make a wish, still too early to copy and paste the paragraphs which followed these titles. But given the unprecedented rate of infection – new cases of Covid in the UK appear certain to break daily records until the end of the month, resulting in self-isolation ravaging supply chains and emergency services and businesses – only a die-hard optimist would bet against any version of the following from this December 2020 article used in the coming days: “After a week of routine hospital operations at the other were halted, the prime minister said he had “no choice but to act against a mutation that was” up to 70%% more heritable than previous versions. “Given the evidence we have on this new variant of the virus and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I have to tell you that we cannot continue Christmas as planned,” the Prime Minister said. … The libertarian wing of the conservative party has clamped down on the restrictions, asking for exemptions… ”

There are of course some very important differences in the context of these catastrophic precedents, including the floating vaccine liferaft. Last Christmas, only 350,000 British citizens had received their first dose of the jab. The miracle of medical research and NHS logistics efforts mean around 80% of the population is now double-bitten and, thanks to last week’s accelerated surge, more than half of UK adults have now potentially received their Omicron- stop booster dose.

Even so, with the highly contagious variant moving through vulnerable populations, and perhaps 6 million eligible citizens still stubbornly unvaccinated, the darker predictions of Sage epidemiologists have become more difficult to dispute.


Hhow are we doing? Among those who have tried to follow the mental health of the country as closely as possible since the start of the pandemic is Dr Daisy Fancourt, professor of behavioral sciences and epidemiology, who leads the Covid-19 social study, which has monitored the daily anxieties and attitudes of tens of thousands of Britons.

“What is really striking this time,” Fancourt told me on Friday, “is that in general the stress over Covid has remained very low in recent weeks, despite cases becoming very low again. high and increase.

“I think it’s partly because people are more used to the disease than they were 20 months ago, and partly because they are confident they will get the vaccine.”

Some of the other big mood swings are more serious. “What emerges from the latest ONS data this morning is that the number of people who believe the pandemic will last ‘longer than the next 12 months’ has doubled in the past year,” said Fancourt. “It was about 20% last Christmas, and now it’s almost 40%.” The other big – and depressing – change, she says, “is that the appreciation for the work of frontline health and social workers has almost entirely disappeared.”

We are no longer all in the same boat. This collective loss of empathy is linked, his data suggests, to political movements like the denial of the pay rise in England that gives tangible value to the work of NHS staff, and the divisive narrative targeting GPs on face-to-face consultations.

Jim Down, critical care consultant and author. Photography: Kalpesh Lathigra

On Friday, I also spoke to two of the people who were at the height of the early stages of the pandemic and who lived to tell the story. Jim Down is an anesthesiology and intensive care consultant at University College Hospital, London, and author of the graphic and touching frontline journal Covid, Life support; Michael Rosen, the famous children’s author, was himself on life support and in an induced coma for 40 days after contracting the disease in March 2020. Both men inevitably already experience extreme versions of the anxieties that many of us have. can start to smell again.

Down is bracing for a sequel to his Covid story. “In addition to the concern about the number of patients who could arrive soon, there is also the fear about the number of employees who will not be infected with the virus,” he says. “It’s the piece that bites hard enough already.”

Does the fact that he and his colleagues have all been here before help or exacerbate these anxieties? “Overall it helps,” he says. “The first time around, I think we were terrified; terrified of the unknown and the scale, and I guess of the potential risk to ourselves. The second time around, we were much better organized. We weren’t worried about running out of fans and PPE, but they were huge in size. Now everyone has this feeling of: surely not yet.

His intensive care unit has yet to see any Omicron patients, but there remains a daily flow of Delta-infected patients, most of whom are unvaccinated. “There is always a lag between the increase in infections and the arrival of patients here,” he says. “From what I understand, the expected peak is now for the second week of January.”

The fact that once again those who are most likely to be admitted are those who have refused vaccination for whatever reason must be difficult to see?

“It’s not our position to judge people,” says Down. “There’s a lot of misinformation – and, anyway, by the time most people come to us, they’re oblivious. But you can’t help but get a little frustrated. I also find it difficult when people aren’t wearing masks, because I’m so used to wearing one all the time, and it’s such an easy thing to do.

One of the things that really stands out in Down’s book is how the sudden scale of mortality affected him. He was haunted by individual deaths and by conversations with relatives who remained behind. Can he face another wave of this? “It’s fluctuating, I had bad times, one earlier this year where I had a big deterioration in my mental health. But for now, I’m fine.

“A lot of people have had similar things where it crept up on them. I think we’ve at least improved our ability to talk about it.

For now, they plan to have a regular Christmas rotation, but there is little doubt that will change. “I think it’s especially difficult for nurses,” he says. “Covid patients are so sick and need very intense care. And they’ve certainly seen a lot of people do it wrong, which is really hard for them. And now it’s happening again.

Children's author Michael Rosen, who spent 40 days in a induced coma after contracting Covid.
Children’s author Michael Rosen, who spent 40 days in a induced coma after contracting Covid. Photograph: David Levenson / Getty Images

Rosen was among those who received some of this care – her book about her illness, Many different types of love: a story of life, death and the NHS, understands the moving series of letters the ICU nurses wrote to him at the end of the night shifts at his bedside while he was in a coma. He came out of this very changed state – with visual impairment and partial hearing loss – but with his creative life force intact. He originally referred to it as a shock experience after WWI. With the news full of Covid again, is he experiencing some kind of PTSD?

“When I came out of the coma,” he says, “I was full of confusion and anxiety. I call it ‘lonely hallway syndrome’ – I don’t mean to call it post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a horrible thing – but it’s certainly not nice to hear about the big new wave. because it brings back all these memories. “

Part of the lonely hallway he’s referring to is the geriatric ward he was placed in after his coma due to a lack of beds. He came surrounded by people with severe dementia. “I really didn’t know why I was there. And also, I didn’t understand that I had been unconscious for 40 days.

Rosen re-enacts vivid dreams of her recovery; when he watches the Downing Street briefings, he finds himself assailed by the phrase “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. It scares him to imagine those same hospital departments preparing for Omicron cases.

“My room was supposed to hold 11 people and they had 24, and half of us were dying. The way a consultant told me was, “You could talk to someone and go out to pee, and when you come back that person is gone.” It was so fast.

He remains in contact with an intensive care nurse, who keeps a diary in which the names of the patients are changed. “I was Mr. Jacobs,” says Rosen. “There are two entrees that I absolutely adore. One of them is, “I said a few greetings to Mr. Jacobs, even though he is Jewish.” The other said, “I walked past Mr. Jacobs’ bed. Mr. Jacobs is still alive.

Rosen is halfway through writing a book on the subject of “getting better” in every way. “My theory is that everyone is trying to improve in one way or another,” he says.

You will have to assert that at least one person in this ongoing national tragedy seems stubbornly immune to this particular tension of self-improvement. Our Attention Deficit Prime Minister has always wanted to present the pandemic as an event with a beginning, a middle and an end. As virologists have long insisted, however, this is a deliberate misunderstanding of the nature of the challenges. The idea that it would be over before last Christmas or this (or the next) was always a predictable false promise.

“The model”, the ObserverAndrew Rawnsley’s chief political commentator wrote about Johnson’s leadership failures in this article a year ago, indeed. “

Twelve months later, this destructive pattern shows no signs of changing. And the results are something we all continue to live with.

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