Since the respective dates on which Italy and the UK reached 100 positive tests for coronavirus, both countries’ outbreaks have followed a similar path:
If, and admittedly it’s a big if, Britain continues to track Italy, then today Sunday 5 April would be the peak of new daily positive tests.
Italy’s peak was on 21 March, at 6,557 positives. Since then, new daily tests have been trending bumpily down towards the 4,000 per day mark.
If new cases are also about to peak in the UK, it’s good news of a sort as it means the ship is taking on water more slowly.
Unfortunately the pressure on NHS acute services is just beginning to ramp up. Although the vast majority of Covid sufferers are symptomless or get over it at home, the minority that need close or intensive care are only now starting to present.
At the moment, the UK is in the odd situation of having the great majority of its 4,000 intensive care and high dependency beds still available for Covid patients who haven’t become seriously ill yet.
At the same time, many smaller UK hospitals that don’t have acute facilities remain overstaffed and under-occupied. They’ve cancelled scheduled operations, sent some patients home, closed routine clinics and therapy departments, and redeployed the staff to help run the few beds still occupied – often by patients with terminal conditions.
That will change quickly. UK Covid patients in a serious or critical condition went from 20 three weeks ago, to 163 last week to 1,559 yesterday.
A lot of those are existing terminal patients who’ve tested positive and are continuing along their death pathway without intending to trouble intensive care resources.
But a fast-growing number will need ICU care to survive, followed by days or weeks on a ward before they can go home. Hence the Nightingale hospitals being built to house pre- and post-‘serious’ Covid cases.
Italy, which is two weeks further along than the UK in its outbreak, and is now approaching its fifth week of total lockdown, may give an idea of how the outbreak will play out for the NHS’s acute services:
Why this virus and why now?
While all of this deck-clearing, Nightingale-building and locking-down may be a terribly exciting new way to address a viral epidemic, the question of ‘why now?’ still stands.
If Spanish Flu was a tiger, coronavirus is a two-day-old kitten. Whatever is driving the pandemic of economic suicides and national house arrests of entire (mostly G12) countries, it’s got little to do with the genuine health risk from the virus.
We’d better get used to it. Because, if it’s what I think it is, we’re being groomed for a very different way of life than we possibly imaged. And for once, there really is no alternative.
Featured image by Gordon Williams on Unsplash