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  • Richard Cree

One Year On

23rd March 2021


UK COVID Deaths – Daily 112 / 7-Day average 91

Total UK COVID Deaths within 28 days – 126,284

Total UK Deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate – 148,125 (up to 12th Mar)

James Cook Hospital – Total COVID deaths – 604

All COVID cases within South Tees Hospitals Trust – 42

James Cook Critical Care

COVID cases – 7 (6 ventilated)

Non-COVID cases – 43 (18 ventilated)



The ironic phrase “May you live in interesting times” is supposed to have its origin in ancient China. It’s only now that I really understand why, what initially appears to be a blessing, is in fact, very much a curse.


Today marks the anniversary of the beginning of the first lockdown. The anniversary has been marked by a national minute’s silence and a doorstep vigil in remembrance of the many people who have lost their lives during the pandemic.


Today is also the date when, one year ago, I started writing this blog. Back then we had already admitted our first COVID patient two days earlier and were preparing ourselves, as best we could, to deal with the onslaught of cases that we knew were coming. Little did I know then, that we would still find ourselves besieged by COVID a year later.


The duration of the pandemic has led to a different kind of challenge from the one we had anticipated. Back then we were all very worried about running out of resources and our ability to cope with large numbers of ventilated patients. Thankfully, the situation, whilst very worrying, never got completely out of hand and we were always able to offer ICU care to everyone that needed it. However, we hadn’t fully appreciated just how long we would be dealing with COVID-19 and what a truly dreadful disease it would turn out to be.


Thankfully, the situation across the nation’s hospitals has now improved significantly. At James Cook, the continuing reduction in the number of COVID patients means that only two COVID wards remain open. Things are also better for us in Critical Care and we have been able to close another of our surge units. This means we are now only running four ICUs instead of our usual three. We are still using beds on the Neuro HDU and the Cardiac ICU but there’s no denying that we are in a far better position than we were just a fortnight ago.


So, on the anniversary of a very turbulent year, how do I feel about the future? To be honest I am optimistic that the situation will continue to improve. As more and more of the population is vaccinated, we should see far fewer hospital admissions and even fewer deaths.


Still, it’s not all milk and honey just yet. There is no doubt that we will be living under the shadow of COVID-19 for a while longer. There is still a chance that the Government’s timetable to normality could be derailed as we are bound to see another rise in cases at some point. However, I do believe that the overall impact the disease will have on society will gradually lessen. Vaccines appear to work better than we ever dared hope, offering an extremely high level of protection against severe COVID pneumonitis. As a result, hospitals should no longer remain in danger of being over-run and we will be able to cope with outbreaks of COVID-19 without having to reimpose draconian restrictions. Ultimately we will be able to return to something very much like normal life. I’m just not convinced it will be on June 21st.


The only flies in this ointment are likely to be the emerging coronavirus variants. After all, it is not credible that we will be able to stop these new variants from gaining a foothold in the UK. Travel restrictions are likely to delay, rather than ultimately prevent, their appearance. Of notable concern is the fact that cases of the South African variant are currently on the rise in Europe. However, whilst all vaccines appear to be less effective against this, and some other variants, it looks likely that vaccination will still confer some protection from serious illness. So, whilst we must remain cautious, the situation is far from calamitous. Booster vaccines will ensure higher levels of protection and the vaccines of the future will have to keep pace with an ever-changing virus.


However, come what may, I remain certain that we are not going to see another year that is anything like the one we have all just lived through.


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