Coronavirus: Millions could die from COVID-19 in poor countries, war surgeon warns

A surgeon who treats people in wars and disasters has warned that millions of people could die from COVID-19 in low income countries.

David Nott, a trauma surgeon from Wales who has volunteered in crisis and conflict zones, says there is only a short amount of time before the most vulnerable parts of the planet are hit by coronavirus.

He has written a paper on COVID-19 for The Lancet journal warning that action must be taken now or the consequences will be dire.

Speaking to Sky News on Saturday, Dr Nott said: “We really need to start doing something to get on top of this. If we don’t there’ll be millions of people [dying].”

In the paper, he said: “The main positive influences on reducing the number of deaths from COVID-19 have been handwashing, social distancing, and the lockdown.

“For the most vulnerable people on this planet, such strategies are not an option. People who live in conflict zones or in refugee camps cannot physically distance, they cannot self-isolate, they have inadequate facilities for washing, and are often without access to health care.

“In fragile settings, there is no massive infrastructure like the NHS. There are few ventilators… there is no piped oxygen, electrical power cuts are common, and the health workforce capacity is unlikely to be enough to deal with even a small number of COVID-19 cases, never mind the potential of thousands of deaths from this disease.”

He said most vulnerable countries were places like Yemen, Chad, northern Syria and South Sudan.

Speaking on Sky, he added: “David Miliband, from the International Rescue Committee, did a survey very recently on 34 fragile countries using the same sort of modelling used by Imperial [College London].

“In these countries, he said there is going to be between 500 million to one billion infections”.

Dr Nott said IRC had estimated there will probably be between 1.7m and 3.2m deaths, which he said was likely “if we don’t do something about it now”.

The surgeon said: “There was a paper written by Dr Wu from China that came out in The Lancet on 30 January, really saying that this is going to be a pandemic and we really should be prepared for something dreadful.

“I don’t really think anyone took any notice of that, so for four weeks it was a time where we should probably have been prepared.”

Dr Nott’s paper says people around the world, in poor countries, have a period of time where coronavirus will not affect them.

He said: “We can’t wait any longer, we have to do something over the next four to five weeks.

“We cannot wait for another four to five weeks because they will be in exactly the same position we have been in.

“We have a short period of time to get it right.”

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