Leading article

North's health service braced for virus surge

As the coronavirus infection continues its relentless march, governments are preparing for the next phase in the fight to control the spread of this disease.

Some leaders are characterising this effort as a war and there is no doubt many of the measures being implemented would only ever be contemplated in the context of a large scale conflict.

But it is clear the threat from this deadly contagion is such that countries are taking steps that only a few short weeks ago would have been regarded as absolutely unthinkable in peacetime.

Lockdowns, handwashing and social distancing, crucial though they are, are only part of the enormous strategic planning directed at this pandemic.

As we know, the health service has been gearing up for the predicted surge in cases and these preparations provide a sense of the numbers that are being anticipated.

In London, the ExCel exhibition centre has been turned into a 4,000 bed field hospital while further such sites are believed to be under consideration in other parts of Britain.

It was announced yesterday that ten people have now died in Northern Ireland after testing positive for Covid-19 while the total number of confirmed cases is 241, although that is a major underestimate of the actual level that exists in the community.

Each of those deaths is an absolute tragedy for their families while it is also clear from accounts given by seriously ill patients that it is not just the elderly and vulnerable who have been badly affected by this virus.

The Department of Health in the north yesterday announced further plans for coping with the expected surge in coronavirus, including urgently discharging medically fit patients and reconfiguring hospital services.

General visiting has been stopped, with exceptions for admitted children, mothers giving birth, children in intensive care, critical care areas and end-of-life care.

Officials are also moving to develop large, temporary respiratory hospitals while it is reported that Kinnegar army base will be used as a mortuary.

The scale of these preparations is daunting and also deeply worrying as it provides a foretaste of what we can expect in the coming weeks.

It also shows that this crisis is far from over and indeed will get much worse before we can finally say the outbreak is under control.

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Leading article