OPINION: Those of us of a certain age are naturally worried about our vulnerability to the virus

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain isn't just worried for herself in Spain but for elderly relatives back home in Britain.

OPINION: Those of us of a certain age are naturally worried about our vulnerability to the virus
Members of the Military Emergencies Unit (UME) arrive to carry out a general disinfection at the Amavir residence for the elderly in Madrid.Photo: AFP

Criticism of the UK government over its handling of the coronavirus crisis has recently reached new heights. Even the right-wing press, including ‘The Telegraph’, has criticised Boris Johnson’s government for its repeated failure to answer fundamental questions about Covid-19.

At rather pointless daily press “briefings”, the same questions were asked repeatedly to no avail. Many questions naturally revolved around the scandalous lack of coronavirus tests, personal protective equipment and ventilators.

These issues are neither new nor unique to the UK, and many other countries – including Spain – have fallen foul of their critics. However, other countries have reached much higher infection and death toll rates before reaching this catastrophic level of failure. Furthermore, the UK government clearly cannot explain itself to the media, or anyone else for that matter.

After days of empty promises to do more, order more, deliver more, the NHS and the British public will almost certainly be forced to wait far too long for lifesaving supplies.


Ventilators – or lack of them – remain a hot topic. The UK government estimates that 30,000 ventilators will eventually be required: however, the NHS only has 8,000. On Tuesday, Michael Gove claimed that the “first of thousands” of ventilators would be sent to the frontline next week. Within 24 hours, we heard that only 30 would be delivered, with the rest expected “in the coming weeks”.

To add insult to injury, a major London hospital reported running short of oxygen, prompting countrywide NHS trusts to limit which patients were put onmechanical ventilators and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines.

We’ve heard tell – from the UK, Spain and Italy – of doctors making heartbreaking decisions regarding which patients can live or die. Rumours abound of arbitrary age limits being set on qualification for that last available ventilator.  

Meanwhile, doctors – none of whom would ever want to be faced with this terrible dilemma – insist that age alone would not be the deciding factor. Rather, a healthy pensioner would be given precedence over a younger person with pre-existing, life-limiting health issues. That’s undoubtedly true but, speaking as a fit and healthy 66-year old, I don’t think I’ll be high on any priority list.

Those of us of a certain age are naturally worried about our vulnerability to the virus. Many of us, regardless of age, are equally concerned about elderly relatives in Britain.

On Wednesday, a GP surgery in Wales was forced to apologise after sending patients with serious illnesses a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) form to complete. The letter accompanying this form claimed that DNR would provide several benefits, including that “scarce ambulance resources can be targeted to the young and fit who have a greater chance”.

In a further worrying development, UK care homes are also revisiting the DNR debate. Some homes have tried to apply non-resuscitation orders to residents’ records, without first discussing the issue with the individuals concerned, or their families. Worried about a possible blanket application of this DNR policy, the UK healthcare regulator has issued a warning for the practice to stop forthwith.

There’s no doubt that medical professionals, who are putting their own lives at enormous risk, will be forced to make heartbreaking decisions. The sheer scale of this deadly disease is overwhelming world-wide healthcare systems and has strained even the best-prepared of governments. How governments respond to the crisis will tell us a lot about the fortitude and humanity of those we put in power.

On Thursday evening, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, reappeared at the daily briefing following his own, short, period of self-isolation. He was expected to answer mounting criticism and provide the media and public with some answers. His “detailed plan” was rather lacking in detail, though he did announce a goal of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April. With the exponential increases in UK cases and deaths, four weeks seems like a lifetime to wait, especially for the hundreds of thousands of NHS staff yet to be tested.

We’re trying our hardest to believe that, despite outward appearances, those running the country do care for the health of the British public and are doing everything in their power to rectify earlier mistakes. The time for excuses and waffle is over. We can conduct the autopsy later. For now, it’s time for honesty, transparency, straight-talking and detailed plans.

We’re fed up with ministers throwing big numbers at us and making vague promises about future actions. The media are rightly asking the government tough questions. It’s high time they got some real answers.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain




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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.