Empty supermarket shelves

Coronavirus battle ‘will transfer to community’ as number of cases rises

Public health expert calls for 'the young and healthy' to join local groups now in readiness.
19 March 2020 , Katie Coyne

A call to arms has been made to those who are 'young and healthy' to join the COVID-19 mutual aid groups springing up around the country.

John Ashton, former president of the Faculty of Public Health, said that while the public is now beginning to grasp the extent of the emergency the key now is not to panic.

He said: “The important thing for people is not to panic. They have got to organize and look after each other. People who are young and healthy and fit have to join these community groups - because they are not going to be at work.

“This is darkest hour stuff. These groups have formed all over the country – find out how to join them and use your knowledge and skills.”

Ashton said hospitals may no longer be able to cope with the number of critically ill, who may need to be nursed at home – making the community group support essential. Some of these people may need oxygen cylinders, or be put on a medication protocol to treat them.

How this will work within the community will need to be established quickly. He added: “The government has to come at it from the community side of the telescope because it’s going to be community based health care.”

There have now been 103 COVID-19 deaths in the UK, the first in Northern Ireland, and the rate is doubling every two days. The government is today enacting emergency legislation in Parliament giving it extra powers to deal with the crisis, which will pass without a vote.

Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, RSPH trustee said: “The Government and the CMO have made clear from the outset that these measures were on the table to be used at the most effective time.

“With the uptick in cases over the last week this suggested we were further along the epidemic curve than initially thought. These measures implemented this week are timely and proportionate to the current and projected outbreak in the UK and particularly for London.”

A report published on Monday from Imperial College, first indicated that in an uncontrolled epidemic would result in an eventual peak of ICU or critical care bed demand 30 times greater than available, and 510,000 deaths.

A mitigation approach – based on slowing the spread and relying on building up population immunity - even under the best scenario would result in an eight-fold higher peak demand on critical care beds over and above the surge capacity. Even if all there was enough treatment capacity the modeling found this would still result in 250,000 deaths.

Suppression is based on reducing case numbers to low levels – as was the approach with SARS and Ebola - and eliminating human-to-human transmission. The authors predicted that the largest impact – short of a complete lockdown that would stop people going to work - would be achieved by combining four interventions –social distancing of the entire population, case isolation, household quarantine and school and university closure.

The authors wrote: “Epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound.”

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