A particularly memorable editorial cartoon from the first wave of the pandemic depicts a healthcare worker in a mask and shoddy knight armour stepping into a COVID-19 ward, trembling inside but putting up a brave front facing the unknown.
It was an apt portrayal of what I, as an emergency doctor, and healthcare colleagues around the world faced in the early spring. COVID-19 found our healthcare systems unprepared to deal with a virus that laid bare both structural vulnerabilities and our continuing divestment away from public health as part of the healthcare response.
It’s troubling that we are being asked to wear this shoddy armour again when we know that the tools of testing and contact tracing were dismantled or never fully put in place; they could have prevented COVID-19 from growing in the first place. While we wait for the rollout of a vaccine, we must not abandon the test, trace and isolate public health tools we know work.
The first wave of the pandemic was marked by a lot of unknowns: learning about the virus’ transmission, how dangerous it would be (it’s not just the flu) and developing better medical therapies. The social contract people took on included mass physical distancing, masking and handwashing to flatten the curve. In return, healthcare workers were applauded for their efforts on the front line. We were given clothing discounts and the title of heroes, even when they felt unwarranted or foreign. Most of us were just trying to do the best job we could.