The central aim of the lockdown strategy is to slow the spread of the disease, and thereby protect the NHS from being overwhelmed. Thanks to the magnificent efforts of so many, this goal is so far being achieved.
Here in Gloucestershire, the total number of patients in ICU at Cheltenham General and Gloucestershire Royal remains under 30 (not all COVID-19). Meanwhile, total capacity in ICU is over 90 beds, each one equipped with a ventilator for use if needed.
The means the Doomsday scenario – of clinicians being forced into heart-breaking choices about which patients should receive life-saving ventilator treatment – has been avoided for now. I want to thank those who have made such extraordinary efforts, and shown such immense bravery, to make that possible.
It could easily have been very different. As recently as 24 March, the Guardian splashed with the headline “NHS hospitals could run out of coronavirus beds in a fortnight”.
Elsewhere in Europe, that is exactly what happened. In Italy, the Mayor of Bergamo tweeted at one stage that the hospitals had run out of intensive care beds and that patients who could not be treated were being “left to die”.
In Russia just recently dozens of ambulances queued outside a hospital near Moscow handling coronavirus, waiting to drop off patients. One ambulance driver said he had been waiting fifteen hours outside the hospital to drop off a patient suspected of having the virus.
In France, two specially modified TGV trains had to be used to carry patients from the hard-hit east, toward hospitals along France's western coast, to free up intensive care beds.
Thoughts can – and indeed must – now turn to the timing of relaxing the lockdown, so we can get our economy going again. But avoiding a second peak is critical. As the Governor of the Bank of England has said, the psychological effects of a 'false start' that forces Britons back into lockdown could damage the economy more.
And we owe it to patients and dedicated NHS staff to ensure capacity in the system is always there.