Judith Dawson is a GP in Kettering and clinical lead for the social care charity Leonard Cheshire.

Dr Razaq, a general practitioner in Buckinghamshire and regular contributor to BJGP Life, has written an account of the pandemic which aims to to look beyond the statistical headlines and uncover the real emotional and psychological scars. He describes how “the age of mass communication has become the age of mass deception and mass hope”, reflects on “the chasm between hope and fear, the sacrifice and recklessness” and the ways in which our emotional response have been manipulated by various agencies. The concept of “a little knowledge being a dangerous thing” is explored and he uses the analogy of a runaway train to explain the impact of coronavirus on everyday life, with patients boarding and exiting the illness train at different points.

Useful reference is made to the acronym DOTS1 (Duration of infective type, Opportunity to spread, Transmission probability and Susceptibility) to explain factors that influence the increase of viral transmission. Comparison is made with the spread of misinformation and strategies needed to curb this, and he summarises the impacts of restriction and vaccination on the pandemic, as well as explaining why the statistics used have fluctuated so much, depending on the veracity of the source in which they have been published.

He confronts the question of our tendency to overestimate human capability to predict the future.

He confronts the question of our tendency to overestimate human capability to predict the future, and the contrast between personal and population effect of restrictions. We are yet to be able to understand the impact of the cessation of screening for early stage cancers and reduction in hospital activity on the health of our population, and he reviews the much debated question of whether lockdown caused more harm than good.

Razaq moves on to examine the hopes that the pandemic may raise awareness of the damage caused by human activity to the natural environment, and the negative consequences of intensive farming and climate change on human health. He concludes by relating the fears of contagion to the “fear of the other” and advocating an ability to understand the origins of fear and circumvent prejudice of all types.

This essay contains a few factual inaccuracies (for example describing double Nobel prize winner Marie Curie as a radiographer). It was also completed prior to the significant second wave in India, which may have altered some of the conclusions drawn from statistical manipulation. However, it provides a very personal perspective of a doctor trying to identify and follow the best possible path through the impact of coronavirus in the UK. It draws interest both as a contemporary view of the pandemic from primary care and for its reflections on our ability to make sense of a rapidly changing and difficult situation.

Both Covid and communication have consumed mental and physical energy in already hard pressed clinicians.

Accurate and informed analysis of the impacts of coronavirus on our society may not be possible for many years, as we continue to observe clinical, political, and economic repercussions. Fear of further outbreaks persists in the medical profession, particularly as occupational health responses to the risks of viral exposure are still contested and unclear, with differing views on the level of mask wearing and PPE required. There is a disconnect, for example, between current advice that staff in care homes must change their face mask between clients,2 while hospital and primary care clinicians continue with sessional use. The press, politicians and scientists appear to be debating the wisdom of hugging family and friends at a time when we still need to wear masks in confined spaces.3

The resilience of the NHS remains in question, and essays such as this illustrate how both Covid and communication have consumed mental and physical energy in already hard pressed clinicians. Alongside Razaq, we must hope for a better approach to society, health, and the environment in the future.

 

  1. Kucharski, A. 2020. The rules of contagion: why things spread and why they stop London: Profile Books Ltd.
  2. Public Health England April 2021 Personal protective equipment (PPE): resource for care workers working in care homes during sustained COVID-19 transmission in England (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-how-to-work-safely-in-care-homes/personal-protective-equipment-ppe-resource-for-care-workers-working-in-care-homes-during-sustained-covid-19-transmission-in-england#within2metres (accessed 10/5/21)
  3. Shukman, D. and O’connor,M.,9/5/21, Coronavirus: Expert urges caution over hugs as lockdown ease BBC News (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-57047525

 

Featured book

Samar Razaq. Hope and Fear in the time of covid-19. Independently published, 2021. ISBN-13 : 979-8713929053. Paperback, £7.19.

 

Featured photo by Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash