It is the silence that strikes.
The only hum of the engine, the jerking of the wheels on the road ... It feels like a night bus.
Except it's noon here in London and it's Saturday.
The 94 double-decker bus runs along the most famous street in the English capital, Oxford Street.
Wieslaw, the Polish driver, looks like a bad day.
He was unable to return to his country for Christmas.
Four canceled flights.
But at work, "it's business as usual"!
Bus timetables have been maintained.
Yet nothing is "as usual".
The bus slows down at the Oxford Circus junction.
The windows of the major brands remain plunged in darkness.
“Coronavirus (…) If you go out, you will spread it, people will die”: this is the type of posters that line the bus shelters in the capital./Vuk Valcic / Sopa Images / LightRocket / Getty
“Normally, 250,000 people pass here every day.
»Wieslaw no longer even needs to trigger the loudspeaker which delivers the sanitary instructions to the passengers.
There is hardly anyone on board.
And in all this silence, the only noise that emerges and paralyzes the rare pedestrians is that of the sirens of the yellow ambulances of the local Samu, which everyone wonders, seeing them spinning at full speed, if they are carrying a patient affected by the virus.
On Tuesday January 5, the United Kingdom opened the third chapter of the drama that has been playing out here for ten months.
The mayor of London has triggered the "major incident" level, usually reserved for terrorist attacks.
For Sadiq Khan, since the appearance of the new variant at the end of November, the epidemic has been "out of control" throughout Greater London.
The country has more than 100,000 dead, more than any other state in Europe.
And yet, "the worst is ahead of us," warns the Director General of Health.
On the precipice, the NHS, the national health service, will soon be unable to cope with the influx of patients.
The countdown has started, it's a matter of days.
Temporary morgues still in demand
The numbers of hospitalizations are panicking in London.
The health services will soon no longer be able to cope with the influx of patients.
Makeshift solutions, often derisory, are put in place./Matt Dunham / AP / Sipa
University College Hospital, on the front line in the Covid-19 crisis, has pushed back the walls in recent weeks.
The operating theaters and the pediatric ward have been converted into intensive care units.
Better equipped and for the most part already vaccinated, caregivers are no longer in the shock of an unknown epidemic as they were ten months ago.
They are no less overwhelmed.
The numbers are crazy.
Britain had two million cases on December 19.
Three million, three weeks later.
A patient is admitted to the hospital every 30 seconds.
There are officially more than 600 deaths per day.
And 80% of new patients are carriers of the new variant of Covid-19, considered two to three times more contagious than the previous one.
“We keep saying that hospitals
being overwhelmed, but they already are!
»Says Claire Goodwin-Fee, president of the association Frontline19, a platform for psychological support for medical staff.
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“When you run out of the most basic things like oxygen, beds… When the sick are being treated in the hallways.
When doctors are deciding who to give priority to treatment, I would say the system has already collapsed!
Claire Goodwin-Fee is far from being the only one to speak of a "state of war".
Temporary morgues built during the first wave, south of London, have been requested, while another is under construction north of the capital.
2,000 caregivers terrified on the phone
And to free up beds, the government is preparing to launch the Home and hotel operation.
Thousands of patients in the recovery phase should thus spend their convalescence in hotel rooms of the Best Western chain, for example, one of the first to have answered the call of the authorities.
And since it is important to take care of these still vulnerable patients, the government is counting on their families.
As long as they have one.
Otherwise, it will be necessary to call on volunteers.
“I don't see anyone anymore”: in London, we live in fear of the Covid variant
“It is a terrible situation, recognizes Lucy Watson, president of the Association of the patients, but surely the only option which allows the NHS to face.
“Because there is another disease that eats away at the NHS from the inside, it is absenteeism.
While the medical staff would need reinforcements, the troops are dwindling every day.
In Kent, south-east London, where the new variant has been detected, more than 25% of caregivers are on sick leave.
Tens of thousands of health service workers are missing.
Sick or in quarantine, but not only.
Ten months earlier, on March 24, 2020, the United Kingdom entered confinement, seven days after France, fifteen days after Italy.
Claire Goodwin-Fee watches television.
She is a psychotherapist specializing in post-traumatic stress - she mainly treats victims of terrorist attacks.
“I thought about the doctors and nurses I know, and I wondered how they were going to get out.
No one was prepared for
And that's how it all started.
The Frontline19 support platform is aimed at medical personnel on the front line in the fight against the coronavirus.
From day one, 400 mental health professionals volunteered and more than 150 caregivers in distress made contact.
In this month of January 2021, Frontline19 must answer more than 2000 calls per week.
The majority of nurses, doctors, emergency doctors, midwives, nursing assistants… “terrified” men and women, according to Claire Goodwin-Fee.
“Imagine a pediatric nurse transferred to Covid-19 service.
We tell him
hey, there you go, he's your patient
She has never worked in intensive care, does not know how to use a respirator and, there, she holds the life of a patient in her hands.
There is also this doctor who needs to tell about the nine patients who died while on duty and the nine phone calls to families.
This funeral director in shock at the call from the local hospital asking him if he would lend his cold rooms.
And now the police.
One hundred and fifty members of the Metropolitan Police in London were requisitioned to drive ambulances.
On January 3, at the Royal London Hospital, ambulances wait for a bed to be found for the patient they are conveying./Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA / Maxppp
“Driving an emergency vehicle with a patient on board is a profession!
stresses Claire Goodwin-Fee.
They are terrified of having an accident.
”In the parking lot of University College Hospital, as in most London hospitals, ambulances are parked in a single file while waiting for the sick to be taken care of.
Staff are stuck on site monitoring patient patterns.
Sometimes immobilized for long hours.
Our bus arrives at the end of Oxford Street and ends at Marble Arch.
The driver takes the passengers on board.
Impossible not to notice the large poster on the bus stop, black and orange, the colors of hell: “Coronavirus.
If you go out you will spill it, people will die.
In the parks, Londoners walk side by side without wearing a mask./Marcin Nowak / Shutterstock / Sipa
Directly opposite, Hyde Park stretches its lawns under a radiant sun.
And despite the freezing temperature, the crowd, who take advantage of the authorized daily outing, is neck and neck in the aisles.
It is not compulsory to wear it in the United Kingdom, which has been claimed by the mayor of London for months.
Sadiq Khan also calls for the closure of places of worship.
In certain districts of the capital, one in 20 people is infected!
And, recently, it is possible to be tested for free.
Until then, only symptomatic people could benefit from this device.
Otherwise, says the government, “go to the private sector”.
Cost of a test: from 95 euros, and up to several hundred euros!
Customers without masks at the supermarket
“We are so happy to see you again!
The message posted on the window of a closed store recalls that a month ago, a wind of freedom was blowing in London with the partial lifting of confinement.
Tosca remembers being struck by the crowd in the center of the capital.
It was the sacrosanct Christmas shopping, the Christmas shopping, for which the British often block a day off in mid-December.
“There was a crazy world, people didn't wear masks and didn't respect distances.
I said to myself, if this continues, we are going towards a third confinement.
On December 15, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan asks residents to wear a mask while they do their Christmas shopping. / ITV / Shutterstock / Sipa
This young Frenchwoman living in London caught the virus in April, then it was her husband's turn.
She lost her job as a stage manager in an art gallery in June, found a job as a professor of art history in Lille in October, one hour and twenty minutes from London by Eurostar.
Immediately after she started, classes went "distancing" in France.
And on November 5, London began its second lockdown.
“The third one,” Tosca sighs, “I took it a bit like a slap in the face.
Every time she goes to the supermarket in her district of King's Cross, Tosca counts those who walk around the store without a mask and is sorry.
“I was in Italy this summer.
I found that people respected social distancing and wearing a mask much more.
And without complaining.
Several supermarkets have decided to prohibit entry to customers who are resistant to the "rules".
Here, that of “wearing a mask in indoor environments where social distance can be difficult to respect”.
Rules, a national obsession.
“Stay local”, also says the locker.
It is blurry - are we talking about a region, a village, a neighborhood?
- and subject to interpretation.
The newspapers devote entire pages to surrealist problems: "If I buy a take-out drink and I travel more than six kilometers to drink it with a friend while keeping my distance, am I outlawed? ?
A scenario which led the Derbyshire police to punish two young women with a fine of 200 pounds sterling (225 euros) each.
The question fascinated the British at the beginning of the year.
The police eventually reimbursed the walkers.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister was caught cycling in Olympic Park, eleven kilometers from Downing Street.
"Do what I say, but not what I do," denounced the opposition then.
Boris Johnson should lead by example.
Bikes are sidetracked at a red light, and pass the statue of the national icon, Winston Churchill, the man who revealed to Londoners victims of the bombings during the Second World War that they could face anything provided they kept discipline and civic spirit.
How One Man Made History is the subtitle of Winston Churchill's biography by Boris Johnson.
In London, only the sirens of the yellow ambulances of the local Samu break the tranquility of the Palace of Westminster./John Sibley / Reuters
Since entering politics, “BoJo” has also been biding his time in “Churchill”.
When the opportunity arises, at the beginning of 2020, he lets it pass and his country is paying dearly today.
In February 2020, on five occasions, the head of government did not attend meetings devoted to the new coronavirus.
Nor does he listen to scientists who encourage him to stockpile equipment to protect caregivers.
In early March, he visited contaminated patients without a mask, the very day the scientific council recommended avoiding contact.
"You'll be happy to hear that I continue to shake hands," he boast as he exits.
And comes March 12.
Tosca will not soon forget.
During a press conference, Boris Johnson evokes the idea of "collective immunity" and warns: "Many families will lose relatives prematurely.
But in his eyes, that doesn't seem like a good enough reason to close schools or ban sporting gatherings.
Tosca remains petrified: “For me, he announced that there would be a lot of human losses and that it was like that.
It was too bad, in a way.
It shocked me deeply.
It is as if he is ready to sacrifice his people.
I found that said a lot about a country.
Visiting Chase Farm Hospital in north London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends the vaccination of a nurse on January 4./Stefan Rousseau / Pool via Reuters
That day, Tosca told herself that she would go and live somewhere else.
At the end of March 2020, Boris Johnson tested positive.
Sick, he was admitted to Guy and Saint Thomas Hospital in London, "simple precaution" affirms 10 Downing Street.
Then, the next day, in intensive care.
In fact, he admitted later, Johnson "did not go far."
He owes his life to NHS staff, whom he will thank publicly.
In particular, the two nurses who did not leave his bedside for forty-eight hours.
Jenny McGee and Luis Pitarma.
She, New Zealand;
Opposition newspapers are sure to highlight the irony of the fate of the man responsible for the departure of thousands of caregivers since Brexit.
Portuguese, Italians and Spaniards, whose excellence has long been one of the strengths of the English emergency services.
Deprived of school… overnight!
At Euston Square metro, the station's service sheet is not about to be erased.
At the beginning of December, on this board where passengers can usually read the daily news, line interruptions or passenger incidents, sometimes even a little poem, there is a message signed by Kate and William.
The Duchess of Cambridge and the future King of England did not take the tube, but did come to write a word of thanks to London transport workers.
Like Vivienne, station attendant, who knows the network like the back of his hand.
In her navy uniform, the young woman shows the way, watches the compost machines.
She is always ready to intervene, but this Saturday the hall remains desperately deserted and no one has anything to ask of her.
" Everything is fine !
We deal with it !
»Vivienne says with a big smile.
Don't count on her to complain, "I'm lucky to have a job."
Double chance, a job considered essential.
In June, Claire Goodwin-Fee met the Prime Minister.
When she explained to him that the medical staff involved in the fight against the epidemic were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and that Frontline19 could help them, Boris Johnson congratulated her by telling her that he had never heard of it. problem.
And it was so "great" that he awarded her an award.
The association had come to ask for a subsidy.
The case has been forwarded to the NHS service.
The mastodon was not convinced by the work of the association.
Seven months later, Claire sent Boris Johnson an email just before the holidays.
The response from his office came on January 8: “Hope you had a merry Christmas!
And for his record, he forwarded again.
The therapist did not respond.
Otherwise, she would have said, “You know what I did on Christmas?
I've listened to severely traumatized people, so, no, I haven't had a fucking good Christmas, and I'm furious because, while you're on leave, in the hospitals, it's working out!
Until January 4, the Prime Minister was inflexible: there will be no postponement of the start of the school year.
The teachers' unions may have warned about the risks of contamination from children to adults, everyone is going back to school this Monday morning… only until the evening!
Since the start of the epidemic, Boris Johnson has refused to take the necessary - difficult - decisions ... to end up taking them.
This time, he wants to protect the teaching staff.
Overnight, it's back home from school.
Except for the children of the famous “essential workers” accommodated in establishments since the start of the pandemic.
“And basically now everyone and anyone is a critical worker.
And therefore people abuse the system, ”notes Marie-Jeanne, a Frenchwoman and mother of two children.
Indeed, some schools reported an occupancy rate of 70% in recent days.
For Marie-Jeanne, the behavior of the British in the face of the virus refers to a much deeper fracture in society.
“It reminds me of the shouting matches in families during Brexit.
Before, it was:
Why did you vote for?
There it is:
How dare you send your kids to school when you are not really an essential worker.
And then, you spread the virus by welcoming your friends to your home.
I already feel around me that people are ready for a clash.
150,000 dead by the end of the epidemic
Queue in a vaccination center, January 11.
The country has 21 million doses./Jeremy Selwyn / Pool via Reuters
For the most ambitious vaccination campaign in British history, Boris Johnson did not want to be late.
The UK was the "first country in the world" to launch vaccination, and the government has promised that by mid-February 15 million people would have received their first injection - two are needed.
Starting with the medical staff, on the front line, and the elderly.
Queen Elizabeth, 94, and her husband Prince Philip, who will turn 100 in June, have already been vaccinated.
To lead this race against time, hospitals, general practitioners and pharmacies are called upon.
A deployment which should accelerate with the opening of ten large vaccination centers.
Boris Johnson even plans to offer a 24-hour vaccination. The country now has 21 million doses of two different vaccines.
Those of the American Pfizer and the English AstraZeneca.
While US health officials say these two products are not interchangeable, Britain has nonetheless decided to allow the possibility of receiving a first injection of one and a second of the other, if necessary. .
Tosca is leaving England, she is moving in February.
Recently, she recalled a conversation with a taxi driver, long before the pandemic.
He had voted for Brexit and told him: “We will do very well on our own.
»And this time?
"Sure, they're still going to be okay, but at what cost?
It will be counted in human lives.
"About 150,000 dead by the end of the epidemic, estimates public health professor Gabriel Scally.
“A staggering number.
It says a lot about how this pandemic has been handled.