I don’t think anyone in January 2020 could’ve predicted that we’d be in our third year of a global pandemic in 2022. When the first news articles were released about a virus from Wuhan it seemed very far away. I’d just started internship and I remember our morning meetings then.

They’d start with the Director of Medical Services (DMS) asking if anyone has been to Wuhan recently. No raise of hands. The ED was instructed to screen for COVID for people with fevers who had recently been to Wuhan. Then after a few weeks it expanded to anyone who had been to China. Very quickly it changed to anyone who has been overseas.

I remember the photos from China of people in hazmat suits closing whole cities. My family and I watched Contagion and laughed at how similar to reality it was. Little did we know what we were in for in the near future.

Soon we started getting locally acquired cases, and our hospital was one of the first to take COVID positive patients. Doctors started wearing masks everywhere at work, but our DMS quickly shot that down. We were not allowed to wear masks unless seeing a confirmed COVID patient as it would scare the public.

Remain Calm

A lot of the doctors were angry at this order. Not being allowed to wear masks seemed dangerous to our safety. The disease was poorly understood. We knew it was extremely contagious but had no idea how severe it could be. No one knew how to treat it and there was no vaccine.

My senior reassured me over coffee at work. He said that he’d been looking after the very early cases before it was released into mainstream media (in the end of 2019/beginning January 2020). It was no more than a minor cold he said with confidence. A sore throat at most. I felt happy with this explanation and the widespread public panic seemed silly at the time. Just a cold.

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More than a cold

By March 2020 we started to realise that it was much more than a simple cold. We had our first hospital outbreak, I was exposed to a COVID positive patient and sent to isolate for 14 days. At the time I felt scared, would I get really sick?

A whole ward was shut down that day and the COVID ward was created. We then heard of the first COVID death in our hospital. The man was in the intensive care unit and had respiratory failure. He wasn’t very old, and didn’t have many co-morbidities.

The whole world was battling with COVID by this stage, and the spread didn’t seem to be slowing down at all.

Still poorly understood we had online teaching about how to manage COVID. In the beginning of 2020 we really only had oxygen. We shouldn’t give too much IV fluids. Possibly prednisone could help. The main changes were that we weren’t allowed to run into a code and start CPR immediately. From now on we need to apply full protective equipment first.

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The first lockdowns – 2020

From April, the remainder of 2020 was spent in lockdown. This particular strain of coronavirus wasn’t too contagious, and the case numbers started to go down. International travel was halted and even city borders were closed.

For months we went to and from work, or worked and studied at home for some.

Back then it seemed like it was almost solved. The vaccine was being created and we soon came to zero new cases daily. Lockdown ended and a normality seemed to set in, well as normal as you can be with wearing masks inside 24/7.

Then another outbreak began with an infected limousine driver. Christmas and New Years saw us celebrating in groups of five, at home. Would this ever end?

Vaccine roll out + DELTA – 2021

Finally, the first dose of vaccines were available. By April 2021, I had my two shots and things were seeming good. Cases were zero yet again and slowly the whole nation was being inoculated against COVID.

Then Delta swept across the world.

Even more contagious than the last, and more deadly.

We had full COVID wards and ICUs. Working on the COVID ward was a whole other world. Donning and doffing protective equipment constantly. Daily multidisciplinary meetings with different experts. Trialling new drugs to try stop people from needing invasive ventilation.

My overall impression was that no one really knew what to do. We were just trying our best, but even the experts weren’t sure. My job was to explain the risks and benefits of unapproved drugs for treating COVID and getting patients to sign the risk agreement. I’ve never dealt with anything like it before.

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The one certain thing – vaccinations work

The one clear difference in patients with COVID-19 was that the vaccinated faired far better than the unvaccinated.

Omicron – 2021

Just when we started to breathe a sigh of relief over the Delta wave being under control, Omicron arrived. This time the government and hospitals weren’t prepared. I believe they were very reliant on vaccinations, and didn’t foresee the huge amount of hospitalisations.

There wasn’t enough protective equipment, there were no COVID designated wards. High risk patients weren’t being isolated properly and outbreaks started happening amongst patients and staff.

With over 100,000 cases logged recently and not all the population vaccinated we’ve had an influx of patients to hospital. Plus a significant proportion of staff furloughed.

My friend has to see patients in the car park, and inside ambulances. Sometimes patients remain in ambulances for four hours without even being offloaded.

The 2nd dose of the vaccine only lasts a few months, boosters are needed. After the booster you then may need a fourth shot (within three months if you’re immunocompromised).

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The world is adapting – 2022

It’s clear the world does not have a handle on COVID yet. England is cutting self-isolation to five full days after negative lateral flow tests on days five and six. Some parts of the US are allowing healthcare workers back after being 24 hours fever free. Australia is cutting self-isolation to seven days if asymptomatic for 72 hours and one negative RAT.

These changes are aimed at improving staffing, especially in the healthcare sectors.

Now PCRs are no longer needed in Australia to test positive, one positive RAT is sufficient, to relieve pressure on testing centres and speed up the process. PCRs in Oz can take up to six days to return a result. Now there are also isolation exemptions for ‘critical workers’ who no longer need to self-isolate if a close contact of COVID-19 (if asymptomatic).

COVID is obviously here to stay, and the world needs to change to adapt to it. Lockdowns and 14 day isolation periods aren’t sustainable for healthcare, education or the economy. It’s definitely not sustainable for mental and emotional wellbeing either.

It appears soon the whole world will be infected with Omicron (especially with reduced isolation periods). Our best bet is to speed up the vaccination roll outs and improve research on treatment. This is aimed at protecting the most vulnerable of our population, who are most at risk. We need more personal protective equipment, testing facilities, hospital staffing and safe access to sick leave.

It’ll be interesting to see how 2022 plays out, but we are definitely not out of the woods yet with COVID. I hope a sense of normality will come back to the world sooner rather than later, but for now all we can do is our best. Taking it one step at a time.

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash