Hospitals across England are stretched to the brink with Covid-19 patients, medical workers are at their breaking point, and the death toll is soaring.
Decisions about who dies and who is given a chance at survival through intensive care grow more challenging by the day. The amount of oxygen being given to severely ill patients has been reduced in a few hospitals to prevent a “catastrophic failure” of overstressed infrastructure. Ambulance crews frequently wait hours to offload patients. And medical workers on the front lines are reporting levels of emotional trauma that outstrip even those of combat veterans.
The number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in England has risen sharply since Christmas and now dwarfs the spring peak by 70 percent, with almost 14,000 more patients in hospitals than on April 12.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned this week that there was a “very substantial” risk that many hospitals will soon run out of beds in intensive care units, even as the nation continues to set daily records for fatalities.
And although the number of new infections in England has started to show signs of slowing — with nearly 49,000 new cases reported on Thursday, compared with the recent high of more than 60,000 daily cases — the consequences of weeks of raging spread are being felt across the country.
Mr. Johnson’s cabinet is considering even tighter restrictions. The country is not only trying to contain a more contagious variant of the virus first seen in the fall, but also to fend off other highly infectious variants — one first detected in South Africa, and two in Brazil.
Prof. Neil Greenberg, a forensic psychiatrist based at King’s College London, released a report this week that showed nearly half of the staff treating the most seriously ill patients reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety and depression.
A similar survey of military veterans who had recently served in combat roles in Iraq or Afghanistan had a PTSD rate of 17 percent.