Today is Sunday, 5th April 2020, the weather in London is exceptionally good! If it was not because we are in lockdown, I would probably be in a park or enjoying a bbq with my family and friends. But I am playing my part and I am staying at home following the government advise.
For the ones of you who do not know me, I am Ana and part of the Circular Economy Club London team, I was born in Colombia and against all the odds, I have a few years of work experience in one of the largest private pathological laboratories in the UK.
On 31st January 2020, BBC News reported the first two cases of COVID-19 in the UK, Prof. Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said the NHS was "extremely well-prepared for managing infections" and, it was also reported China had 10000 confirmed cases and 213 death. The rest of the world only had 100 confirmed cases spread over 22 countries.
Meanwhile, at my place of work, we were receiving the first few samples for COVID-19 testing. Those samples used to come in highly secured boxes with a bright sticker, highlighting the high-risk classification of its content. They used to be taken straight away to a containment level 3 facility (CL3), used for the isolation and identification of Category 3 pathogens, and a select number of Category 2 pathogens that may pose a risk to the laboratory staff handling them.
In China, 2% of the infected population was dying. As it is a new virus, there was no much information available but what was being reported from Wuhan. The only certainty we had, was that this new virus was killing people by causing severe respiratory problems, there was speculation about whether or not this new disease was airborne. At that point, I was already reading daily updates from the World Health Organisation.
What is my main reason for concern?
No one would like to see their loved ones being affected by any disease. Apart from my own health, I am worried about my parents who are in Colombia; Sebastian, my 4-year-old nephew who at his short age has on several occasions been admitted into hospital due to his very sensitive respiratory system, my neighbours, there are so many people to be concerned for...
One of the senior members of my team in the lab told me that I had nothing to be worried about because the samples I was in contact with, were not for COVID-19 testing. However, the number of samples for viral respiratory screen, which includes a different strength of coronavirus, had had a 100% increase from December to January and the figure was even higher for the first two weeks of February,
Being a private laboratory, soon we started to feel pressure from the clients, most of them private doctors, who were desperately looking for a reliable solution to test their patients.
How could we increase our analysis capacity?
While the NHS is straggling to increase the number of tests done per day due to a shortage of the necessary reagents to do the analysis, there are labs in Germany with spare capacity. Soon, we started referring COVID-19 samples to them.
The samples that are being sent abroad are PCR swabs, considered to be of lower risk than bronchial washing or sputum samples taken from hospitalised patients.
It is how nowadays I can easily get in contact with COVID-19 samples on a regular basis while at work. From sample reception to Biochemistry and Microbiology, under the use of personal protective equipment, we have been witnesses of its exponential demand.
In order to protect staff members, the laboratory has implemented social distancing and has changed our working patterns. But like any other key workers, we continue doing our job and will only stop in case we show symptoms.
In my department, we are about 60 people. So far, 3 have tested positive, 3 are waiting for results and a few more are in self-isolation for varies reasons.
Like any other responsible person, I am only going out to work, do my shopping, go for a short exercising activity and back home. It is not easy and rather boring but I know every day I stay at home, it also means I am one day closer to the day I will be able to hug my loved ones again.
Today, Sky News reported over 60,000 confirmed cases in hospitals and over 7,000 deaths in the UK alone. If that information is right and, as they said those numbers are only counting for hospitalised patients, it means that real figures would be a lot higher as my colleagues and private sector patients who have tested positive, are not being taken into account.
At the moment my job is not at risk, but for many, having to pay the rent and feed a family has suddenly become their main reason for concern.
In between so much uncertainty, I have found myself reflecting and finding reasons to keep me hopeful!
Even though meeting people is not possible, the crisis has awakened the world demand for unity.
We have also seen how our planet has recovered from our unsustainable practices during the time people have been confined during this crisis.
According to Carbon Brief, Coronavirus temporarily reduced China’s CO2 emissions by a quarter during the lockdown, in New York carbon monoxide levels are half of what is normally recorded for March, fish are returning to Venice’s canals and, in Colombia, dolphins are back in Cartagena's bay. By looking at the evidence, it seems planet Earth is taking a break while humans beings are confined.
Is it really a crisis of such magnitude, with such high cost in human lives the only way we, human beings have to understand that planet earth is our only home, that provides us with food, water, fresh air and all that is really essential and more?
I believe you will agree with me if I say that Circular Economy has the potential to balance planet Earth's needs without the terrifying cost in human lives that we are seeing.
This time is a time for reflection and revaluation of what is important and how after the current nightmare has passed, we are going to act and the actions we need to take to become a much better society. We will learn from it!
I believe circularity has that power! We have that power!
We know that as much as the world needs a strong financial structure, it has to be developed hand by hand with a strong social foundation and protective of our natural resources and the environment. We know the solutions are already here, we just need to expand it all over the world at the same speed COVID-19 has done it.
While we go through the crisis, I will continue at work doing my best in the process of pathological samples being tested.
And, apart from slowing down our regular hectic life-style, I hope the crisis does not affect you too much.
This is my message of hope and solidarity! We are united and will go through it together!!
Best regards Ana
Dr David Greenfield