A consultant who admitted feeling “helpless and unprepared” for the feared onslaught of coronavirus patients in March said his hospital and the NHS rose “brilliantly” to the challenge and society must now ease out of lockdown sensibly.
Dr Raja Biswas, consultant physician at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant, who helped manage and worked on the frontline on dedicated Covid-19 wards, believes a second wave of infections is unlikely but the NHS is ready if there is.
If people take sensible precautions like social distancing and hand-washing the risk of contracting Covid-19 is “low,” he believes.
“The virus is not going away. You have to be careful and socially distance but be realistic – you cannot stay cooped up in your house.
“There is a risk, obviously, but now we are in a situation where balancing risk is crucial.”
The father-of-one, who himself caught the virus while treating patients, said schools should re-open fully in September and equal attention should have been paid to the education system which now needs support to help young people.
“I completely agree schools should open. I have a 15-year-old daughter and have seen how much this has affected her.
“It is not just about education – it is also about mixing and socialising and learning from your friends. Children are not having that in lockdown. Simple things like year 11 proms being cancelled – to a lot of people that is not important but to some it is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and very important.
“I strongly think schools should be open next term.
"Even if the virus does go away eventually billions have been spent and the economic repercussions will ripple across all our lives.
“If we don’t pay attention to young people we are doing a disservice to them. When this started government should have given equal attention to the school system. I understand they had to shut schools but there was no plan to re-open them.
“The day after schools closed they should have started planning for re-opening.
“I can understand the concerns people have but as a doctor, and someone who understands the virus perhaps a bit more than some people, I feel confident about sending my daughter to school.”
He added: “My instinct will be to start in September full-time. Simple question – if not in September then when? Things are not drastically going to change in a short time and children do need the education.
"You may have to look at doing things differently with bigger class sizes to accommodate the students or the government investing in education with the same priority as they have done in NHS.”
The consultant said the picture has changed since March. There are now two medicines to help slow Covid-19, medics know more about how to treat the virus, and work has also started on the development of possible vaccines and faster testing.
Lockdown and social distancing helped control the spread of the disease and the NHS has demonstrated how it could change virtually overnight to respond.
“You have to be sensible – you can’t stop your life because risk is there. The risk is there when you cross the road but you don’t cross the road without looking. Some things we know reduce risk. Wear a mask, wash your hands, socially distance. Take the precautions recommended and I think the risk is low.”
Dr Biswas said the initial weeks of the pandemic were “worrying” as the NHS and society faced an unknown threat but by the end of May, just when he himself was diagnosed with coronavirus, it was clear the situation was under control and the worst fears of an enormous peak were not realised.
His hospital never got the 100 virus patients a day it was warned to prepare for although at one stage it was treating 50 to 70 patients at any one time.
“The NHS stood up to the challenge brilliantly. The individuals working in the NHS rose to the challenge.
“When needed everyone stepped up and went beyond expectation. The NHS has done everything expected and more. We are very lucky to have the NHS and I am extremely proud to be part of it.
“We are better prepared now than in March. We have an experienced workforce, an efficient rota, effective treatment with protocols and pathways in place. And most importantly a testing strategy and possible vaccine.”
Dr Biswas, who was ill for more than 10 days after contracting the virus, also urged people to realise that the virus behaves differently in different people so steps such as taking temperatures are no guarantee that someone doesn’t have it. That’s why social distancing and hygiene are vital. He himself did not get the telltale dry cough or breathing difficulties while some people don’t get a temperature and others are asymptomatic.