As the UK witnesses another surge of Coronavirus, we speak with NHS consultant Dr Ranajoy Sankar Bhattacharya (MD, MRCP, FRCPath) from the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Manchester Royal infirmary as a part of the iGlobal Frontline Series.
The specialist in Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine tells us how best to stay protected and stop the spread of the virus in this season.
Born and brought up in Kolkata, India, Dr Bhattacharya went through medical school, post-graduation, and his first job in his birthplace.
"After that, I wanted to pursue higher studies in infection, hence migrated to the UK in 2016. The UK and NHS have enriched me in my speciality over the past six years. However, I still cherish my Bengali middle-class upbringing and basic medical education in a government-run hospital where everyone is treated equally and free of charge at the point of care. Possibly this is why I have blended so well into the UK health services, which essentially runs under the same structure," the medic reflected.
Serving in the Frontline right from the beginning of the pandemic, Dr Bhattacharya thinks a doctor's profession has always been challenging, whether in today's Covid era or before.
"Some people get a calling from inside to work for the sick and the vulnerable. NHS always welcomes this compassionate bunch of people. For others, I would say you possibly have a limited idea about what you can offer to the NHS while you pursue your career of choice.
"Working in the NHS need not be directly related to patient care. The health services being the biggest employer in the country, needs expertise from every discipline that you can imagine, from medicine to marketing, from humanities to heart surgery," he explained.
Here, we discuss with him a range of issues around the recent Covid surge in the UK, preventative measures and the crucial role of vaccines.
What is your message to stay healthy this new year?
Learn how to prevent common health problems rather than react to them and educate others.
How severe are these new Omicron variants?
I appreciate that news of new Covid variants surfacing every other month is quite disturbing. Still, I think that discussion about the transmissibility or severity of disease caused by these variants is not useful in a public forum.
However, to address this question, acquiring adequate information about new variants may take a few weeks, if not months. Hence general safety precautions are the way forward. In particular, the protective role of vaccination cannot be over-emphasised in this situation.
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Please tell us about the role of vaccines in this new surge. Will a booster dose help?
Vaccines are still the best weapon we have got in our armamentarium. Generally speaking, the current vaccine should offer reasonable protection against upcoming variants. This essentially means vaccinated individuals should get milder diseases, if at all.
We're not under a lockdown anymore, and many of the previous Covid rules have been relaxed. Under these circumstances, what preventive measures should one take to keep the virus away?
The risk of getting the infection is significantly higher if you are not vaccinated. Or, if you have been vaccinated but are still vulnerable to the infections due to your background medical condition, medications etc., you need to be extra careful about avoiding Covid-19.
The ways to do this are:
Meet people outside, if possible.
Open doors and windows to let in fresh air if meeting people inside
Limit the number of people you meet and avoid crowded places
Wear a face covering when it's hard to stay away from people
Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day
Imparting health education and training to the younger generation
Stay updated with booster doses of vaccines, even for the younger population.
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Whilst some of the measures seem impractical in a non-locked down UK, in reflection, one would realise we have all been following these to some extent. For instance, people who work from offices have mostly switched to a hybrid working mode. This, if we think, has reduced the number of people we meet face to face at work and during commuting.
Ultimately, social distancing, vaccination and proper knowledge are still the best weapons to fight against Covid-19.