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‘What will become of us?’: Stretched ICUs fear worst in French COVID crisis

French hospitals with stretched intensive care units (ICU) are fearing that the worst is yet to come in the country’s COVID-19 crisis amid talks of new variants of the virus and a vaccination drive that’s not as speedy as planned.

At the western French Le Mans hospital, ICU nurses and doctors said they have been stuck in a “high plateau” of activity since mid-December.

Intensive care head Christophe Guitton said the second wave of the coronavirus, which forced France into a second national lockdown in November, brought about a spike in the number of COVID-19 patients.

The figures slightly lowered in early December, but as France recanted its lockdown, it was no longer smooth sailing, Guitton said.

“We’re counting a lot on the vaccinations,” he said. “But then, this disease has taught us that sometimes, we have to stop forecasting and try to stick with what we know and adapt to the events.”

France reported a further 141 deaths from coronavirus on Sunday (January 17), taking the cumulative toll since March 2020 to 70,283, the public health authority said.

It also reported 16,642 new infections within the previous 24 hours.

Guitton said now, talks of new variants have struck further worry for the ICU workers, and they expect to have a peak in activity by late February or early March.

Health authorities are in a race against time to contain new variants of the coronavirus before they get transmitted around the globe and further burden nations’ health systems.

Most notably, the UK variant, which has been analysed as having a greater transmission rate, has been cited by the British government as the main reason for a flare-up in COVID-19 cases in the UK over the past month.

Swiss authorities also enforced tight restrictions in the posh ski resort town of Saint Moritz after a highly infectious new variant of the virus was found.

Guitton said ICU workers at his hospital need to juggle between the about 10 COVID-19 patients in the hospital and those treated for non-COVID-related maladies.

“In addition to the COVID patients, we have to talk about the other patients, and both combined, we’re in a very intense level of activity, more than what we usually have in the winter,” he told Reuters on Monday (January 18).

And so far, Guitton said, hospital workers’ mental health is deteriorating – a drop in motivation, post-traumatic stress, sleep troubles, anxiety.

“It has probably changed us all, and we’re all a bit worried of what will become of us when this is all over,” he said.

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