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Leading local doctor says British life will be "changed forever" by pandemic

Credit: Public Health England

An expert in disease control believes life will forever be changed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dr Bharat Pankhania, who sits on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said many more will die and the UK needs to start preparing now for the grief and depression that will follow. 

Despite warnings through media across the world since January about how the virus would spread, he feels his efforts have been for nothing. 

The senior University of Exeter lecturer is continuing to urge people to consider everyone and everything a potential source of infection. 

Dr Pankhania told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It’s devastating. I feel our world has changed forever. 

“We’re going to lose friends and family in this catastrophe. 

“People are losing their jobs and will never get them back. It’s created a new poor. They will have pressure with their rent, their mortgage, their livelihood. They will die before their time. 

“Now is the time to prepare for the consequences of the infection. There needs to be relief for people who have lost their jobs or are struggling financially, relief for people who have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). 

“There’s going to be a lot of stressed, anxious and bereaved people. It’s our duty to gear up preparations now. 

“Depressed people are less productive. It’s not in the interest of the nation to have a depressed population. 

“Our lives have changed forever. There is no end to this. There will be a new start.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK can turn the tide on the virus within 12 weeks, but Dr Pankhania is “very confident” that will not happen. 

The senior consultant in communicable disease control, who also investigated the SARS and ebola outbreaks, “felt like a lone voice” when he recognised coronavirus as a pandemic before the World Health Organisation and accurately predicted how it would spread. 

He shared warnings in multiple languages through media across the world but said his local paper was the first to take his concerns seriously. 

“I feel like I’m living a dream,” he said. “Every step, I’ve seen it coming. I’m not gloating. 

“I first said in the Bath Chronicle in January there was a problem on the horizon. 

“I feel my messages were unheard. I feel like I didn’t achieve anything. Despite doing my very best, it’s still happening. I was a lone voice. I was so scared I might say something wrong. 

“When this is over, we can say Bath led the charge.” 

Dr Pankhania said the future looks bleak but there could be three possible “eureka moments” – if there was a breakthrough with a medicine, or a vaccine was developed, or the disease becomes less effective. 

For now, much of his role has been about dispelling myths about coronavirus and how it spreads. 

“I’m hearing so many misunderstandings about basic stuff, like what social distancing and “stay at home” actually mean,” he said. 

“One person said they heard gargling with antiseptic would stop the virus getting into their lungs. It’s much easier to stay away from other humans.  

“The information from the Government could have been clearer. It’s been ambiguous. 

“The lockdown should have happened earlier. With a rising tide, it’s easier to keep the lid on things in the earlier phase of the outbreak. 

“Steps like self-isolating would have had a much better outcome. It will still be effective. 

“I have no doubt there will be many more infections and deaths. Only time will tell if the steps were taken too late. 

“All lives are worth saving. I’m very glad I don’t have to make these decisions.”

By Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporting Service

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