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8 January 2021

The crisis in London’s hospitals exposes the real challenge of a pandemic

With London’s hospitals two weeks away from being overwhelmed, we are enduring the direct consequences of keeping the capital's economy open.

By Stephen Bush

London’s hospitals are two weeks away from being overwhelmed by coronavirus cases, according to a leaked NHS England briefing obtained by the Health Service Journala story which lays bare the real challenge created by the novel coronavirus.

As Ailbhe explains well, the big lie at the heart of the United Kingdom’s lockdown debate was always that you could choose between lockdown or no lockdown: ultimately the challenge created by the pandemic is that a high enough outbreak means the suspension of modern medicine as we know it, and with it the economic and social consequences of both Covid-19 and of countless otherwise treatable injuries and ailments. 

Minimising the risk of coronavirus patients infecting other patients is a key part of preventing the nightmare of hospitals become infection centres themselves – and one genuine success of the United Kingdom’s response to the pandemic is that thus far this has been avoided. This need to minimise infection risk means that one coronavirus patient takes up much more NHS capacity than a normal sick patient would, further increasing the pressures on the health service. 

​​​​​​​London’s struggles now are a direct consequence of the decision to keep the capital open – in order to boost the country’s economy – and run its healthcare capacity as hot as possible. But they also preview the challenges that could be faced elsewhere if England’s third lockdown does not prove tight enough to control the spread of infections, or if the vaccine rollout doesn’t proceed at the speed required to reduce the number of cases requiring hospitalisation.

[see also: How the UK lost control of the mutant strain of Covid-19]

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